It’s a classic topic of debate on a long journey or over a few drinks in a pub – what’s the best movie of all time? Everyone has their favourite, often based on their first visit to the movies or the first film they owned at home and were able to watch it time and time again until they knew every line by heart!
But let’s consider the poker movie genre, from The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 through to Molly’s Game in 2017, we’ve seen twists, high-stakes, loan sharks and hustlers galore. But where does Molly’s Game sit amongst its poker peers; Is Molly’s Game the Best Poker Movie of All Time?
Firstly, let’s consider why we should even consider Molly’s Game to take this title. As the most recent, it’s likely to be at the forefront of our memory, more so than those from previous decades, so let’s remind ourselves just what makes it such a strong contender. Firstly, forget the script and just take a look at the cast – Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Samantha Isler and Kevin Costner – not to mention Aaron Sorkin, the Writer/Director. Now having such a strong line-up doesn’t mean that they take the crown immediately, but it certainly means we have to sit up and take note immediately.
The great names above are not let down by the script. Based on a true story, Molly Bloom’s skiing career is ended abruptly by a debilitating back injury which she sustains in a qualifying event for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Instead of going to law school she takes a year off, moves to Los Angeles, gets a job waitressing at a club but through her boss is quickly running underground poker games for the rich and famous. Now, this really is a long story short, but she then sets up her own poker games, taking with her the celebrity clientele. Things go bad and she moves to New York where she sets up the same but is swiftly addicted to drugs, the Russian and Italian mafia are involved, the FBI, her father (Costner) re-emerges, guns, court room, a deal, the lot!
In isolation, we certainly have seen a lot of similar twists and narratives before in this genre, but never have we had such a perfect recipe of rich plot mixed with top-level cast, meaning an all-round incredible poker movie.
But how does Molly’s Game stand-up to the likes of Casino Royale (James Bond, 2006) and Rounders (1998)? Casino Royale successfully brings together James Bond 007, the British Government’s finest, and Le Chiffre a terrorist financier for the mother of all poker games with a mere $10 million buy-in! The tournament culminates with a $115 million hand and James Bond winning with a straight flush. Before and after you have the classic and well-loved Bond moments of car chases, international locations, seduction and assassination, not to mention the CIA. But this is Bond, where there is more action than in a 60 second sports highlight reel; the poker scenes do wonders for the casino industry but is there really enough poker action from start to finish to class this as a Poker classic? As for Rounders, starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, this film became a cult hit as the popularity of Texas hold ‘em grew in the global population. Unlike Bond, from start to finish this film is about the underground world of high-stakes poker and sees Russian gangsters, cheating, old debts, stretches in prison, pressure from a girlfriend to quit and a whole lot more. We love Rounders because of the tension in the card scenes and the ending which breaks every Hollywood convention, seeing Damon’s character heading to Vegas for more poker when we all expect him to leave it all behind for his girlfriend.
So, is Molly’s Game the Best Poker Movie of All Time? Let’s sit on the fence and celebrate them all. Enjoy the tension, enjoy the twists and keep watching them all so you can keep debating them until the next poker movie comes along!