Aaron Sorkin Could Save Poker Movies

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Ever since the late-‘90s classic “Rounders,” which some people credit with having started the amateur poker boom, movies about poker and casino activity have lacked that special something.

In 2008, we saw the release of “21,” the retelling of a true story about a group of MIT mathematics students who, under the guidance of an ambitious professor, started a card counting ring and jetted off to Las Vegas on weekends.

It had some sex appeal and entertainment value, but it was plagued by accusations of inaccuracy regarding the true story, and (due respect to Jim Sturgess, who played the lead role) it lacked the star turn that might have made it a little bit more compelling. Put a young Matt Damon (the luxury “Rounders” had) or someone of a similar level in the role and it might have drawn a little more attention.

In 2013, “Runner Runner” attempted to revive the casino movie genre, with a twist. The movie took on the modern game and the idea of massive online casino businesses. Unfortunately, it did so without actually showing how intricate that environment has come. These days, millions of people play poker online, interacting with and gambling against strangers.

The game is constantly adapting, to the point that we now have live dealer games online where players can enjoy video feeds of actual human beings arranging and moderating games. It’s actually an intriguing backdrop for a film, but instead of really delving into the nature of modern poker, “Runner Runner” devolved into a generic crime thriller, more about the nefarious business of a man behind a fictional poker platform than about the game itself.

And in 2015, we got “Mississippi Grind,” a low budget gambling drama that earned some positive acclaim. With starring turns from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds, it was widely praised by critics (even earning 3.5 out of 4 stars at Roger Ebert’s site), and was generally regarded as a success. The problem was that it didn’t have a wide release and not too many people actually saw it.

Those aren’t the only poker and gambling movies we’ve seen since “Rounders,” but they’re the most noteworthy of the bunch, and none made a significant impact. It would be understandable to assume the genre has simply died out, and that gambling concepts are a little tired on the big screen. But anyone thinking these kinds of thoughts might want to put them on hold, because the genre appears to be getting about the biggest shot in the arm Hollywood has to offer. Aaron Sorkin, thought of by many as the best screenwriter in the business, is coming to the rescue.

Rumors to this effect surfaced a few years ago but the project is starting to come into shape and is expected to be released later in 2017. It will be called “Molly’s Game,” and will be an adaptation of the memoir of Molly Bloom, a skier with Olympic hopes-turned-cocktail waitress who wound up organizing an underground poker ring for the Hollywood elite. Bloom’s clientele famously included the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, and Tobey Maguire before the whole operation was busted.

Needless to say, if any of those actors show up to play themselves this will be an even more interesting project that will be sure to draw large crowds. As it stands this sounds like the most intriguing poker movie since “Rounders.”

Sorkin is adapting the memoir and trying his hand at directing for the first time, and Kevin Costner, Jessica Chastain (who will play Bloom) and Idris Elba are already on board to star. “Molly’s Game” might just be the poker movie we’ve been waiting for and could help save the genre.

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