The "true crime" genre has been making a ferocious comeback this decade. Ever since the podcast Serial became a surprise hit in 2014, small and large screens have run to jump on the bandwagon, from Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story series on FX, to Molly's Game in the movie theaters. The latter advertises itself as a true crime film, based on the autobiography of Molly Bloom, a high stakes poker "entrepreneur." But how real is Molly's Game?
Most "true crime" adaptations for any size screen takes some liberties to tell a better story, even if it's just reangling the way the story is told. We saw that with the first season of American Crime Story, where the O.J. Simpson trial was refocused through lenses of racism and sexism, making prosecutor Marcia Clark a central and sympathetic figure. Season 2 has the Versace family screaming that everything about their son Gianni that is portrayed on screen is utter fiction.
Molly's Game is slightly different. According to the author and the subject of the film, Molly Bloom, the facts as presented on screen, as wild as they are, really did happen. Starting in 2004, and running until she was charged in 2013, Bloom first managed and then ran her own underground high stakes poker tournaments for Hollywood celebrities, sports figures, politicians, Wall Street moguls, and even Russian mobsters.
The plot of the movie unfolds in the telling, as Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain) recounts the events that lead her from a job as a cocktail waitress to manager of an regular illegal poker game. It started at the request of Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire, and was held in Los Angeles' famous Viper Room. Her audience is Charlie Jaffey (played by Idris Elba), her defense attorney, one who was so effective that by the time she made it to court, he managed to get her off with, according to USA Today, only "one year of probation, a $1,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service."
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Bloom praised how close he struck to the truth. In an interview with Vice just after the movie arrived in theaters Christmas day, she admitted she was impressed with how accurate they were.
A lot of films in this biopic category play with a lot of creative licenses, and yes, there was some of that in terms of how he dealt with certain composite characters, but the rest was all true.
While real, and still currently famous, celebrities (other than Maguire) were known to be part of Bloom's ring, these are the ones who are, in Bloom's words, turned into "certain composite characters." But that's not because of a wish not to be accurate, but because of how she wrote the book the film is based on.
One of the major characteristics of Chastain's character is the moral streak that Bloom had, all the way through her time on the illegal gambling circuit. She believed in keeping her client's privacy private, to the point that even in her tell-all book, she doesn't use last names. Most assume that "Ben" is Ben Affleck and "Leo" is Leonardo Dicaprio, but that's because their identities were spilled by a hedge fund manager who was trying to get his money back after the game was busted.
As Jessica Chastain told Vulture, Bloom's story may seem unbelievable, but it's just proof that women can do anything if they put their minds to it.
It’s the story of a woman who uses her intellect and her competitive nature to become powerful in an industry traditionally dominated by men. It’s also a woman who has her own agency. She’s not there serving the male characters in the story, she has her own wants and desires.
Molly's Game is in theaters now.