Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game (TIFF)

Aaron Sorkin is known as a master storyteller with a distinctive voice. But what makes Sorkin unique isn’t so much his ability to tell a story as it is his sense of knowing what stories are worth telling. And Molly’s Game is a fascinating biopic told with gusto, all the more so because the story is true.

Molly Bloom is a hard-driving former Olympic qualifying skier who, after a career ending accident, starts running private high stakes poker games, eventually getting arrested by the FBI.

There are about three different movies in that one sentence, and all the above information is provided within the first five minutes. That’s how dense in exposition this film is. Molly (Jessica Chastain) provides consistent voice-over as running commentary throughout the entire film. You don’t get through five minutes of screen time before Chastain jumps in off screen to comment, backtrack, or give a quick lesson on poker, skiing, or drugs.

This, with lesser artists, can be utterly infuriating. But with Sorkin and Chastain, there’s a purpose. Molly is incredibly smart and does not reflect. She moves forward, always needing to be at the top of the game at whatever she does, no matter what it is. This is how she survives, and it is her downfall. So, Molly is butting in her own story, reconfigurating, recontextualizing, rebutting.

And if you give Sorkin the opportunity to write, he’s going to write as many words as he possibly can. There is no silence in Sorkin’s world or among his characters. In his other verbose projects, this has come across as self-congratulatory and somewhat egotistical (The Newsroom), but it makes sense here, as Molly is deliberately and desperately running away from self-awareness. The flood of words keeps her from herself.

This is a tour de force for Chastain. The show is all hers. No one has near as much screen time, and there is no other clear perspective. There are two key supporting characters, Kevin Costner as Molly’s father and Idris Elba as her lawyer. Both are excellent, and each gets a showcase monologue, but they hand the football right back to Chastain when they are done. Watching the vulnerability peek out of her very closed-off and composed behavior is fascinating. She doesn’t do much to show it, but the moments that come up are the chinks in the armor that let us in enough to sympathize with this driven, aching person.

Sorkin should get credit for his direction as well. He moves things along at lightning pace, expecting you to catch up. He never talks down to you, but he isn’t going to slow down either. The way he sets up the poker games, the “man caves” as Molly calls them, brings out the tension all the players are going through and then he contrasts them with Molly’s demeanor. She is in control at all times.

And really, this is what Molly’s game is about. It’s about power, the power the players, particularly the reprehensible Player X (a smug Michael Cera), lord over the less talented, and the power Molly has over all the men, in contrast to the control her father exerted over her, which ironically made her so fearless and driven. Also  how power ultimately always falls short and ultimately is unsatisfying.

In sum, this is Sorkin’s take on the age that we are in and how the sexes wield power. Men can be petulant, impulsive, and childish while still calling the shots and remaining in control. Women have to be very smart, very composed, and emotionally distant (but not too much so) to even consider stepping into the arena. And when women misstep, even slightly, they get the book thrown at them. It’s not hard to find the metaphor is here. Just sit back and enjoy a well-told story by folks at the top of their game.

Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly Bloom’s book
Released by STX Films
USA. 140 min. Rated R
With Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, and Jeremy Strong