MOLLY BLOOM — Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, the woman who once ran the richest poker game in the world, in “Molly’s Game.”
Herald Photo / STX Films
MOLLY BLOOM — Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, the woman who once ran the richest poker game in the world, in “Molly’s Game.” Herald Photo / STX Films

“Molly’s Game” has a little bit of everything: high-stakes gambling, a killer Jessica Chastain performance, true-story celebrity naughtiness, and a smart, witty script by Aaron Sorkin.

That’s the one thing that this entertaining film has too much of at times — Sorkin as Oscar-winning writer (“The Social Network”) and director (for the first time) can be the movie’s greatest asset and liability at the same time.

The dialogue is whip-smart, and if you want to learn how poker games work, you’ve come to the right place. Or how the federal justice system works. Or competitive skiing among aspiring teen Olympians.

Sorkin makes all of these subjects fascinating and too long-winded in most cases, which makes for a great listen but not always a great cinematic dynamic, resulting in a film that feels a half-hour too long at 2 hours, 20 minutes.

But on to what the film does well and that is to tell a story that is complex and entertaining and current in its context: How a woman tries to gain control of her life when powerful men want to take that control away.

Jessica Chastain is supremely confident and icy as Molly Bloom, the woman who once ran the richest poker game in the world until she was forced to fold.

Molly is above all a competitor, raised by her tough-love father (some would say uncaring as played by Kevin Costner) to be a prodigy at skiing and her education.

As a young woman, she is incredibly impressive in her accomplishments to the rest of the world, but in her own home, she’s running behind her two brothers (one of which is Jeremy Bloom, a three-time world skiing champ and former University of Colorado wide receiver).

So this is a woman with a burning desire to succeed to go along with a healthy ego.

Among the standout performances is Tulsa’s Samantha Isler (appearing at Circle Cinema on Friday) as the teenage Molly, verbally counter-punching with Costner and more than holding her own against the star.

The daddy-issues element of the story plays directly into the element of this driven woman’s introduction to helping with a high-stakes underground poker game — and then setting up her solo enterprise through guts, guile and good gambles of her own.

She’s a woman trying to run an underground man-cave atmosphere: players at a poker table in a pricey hotel suite with star athletes, actors and billionaires, and the air is thick with those attempting to either seduce or ruin her.

Such is the nature of gambling, and losing, and being the only woman in the room.

Michael Cera is smarmy goodness as an actor described in the film as Player X (but in Bloom’s book as Tobey Maguire) who is a truly horrible human being whose connections can help Bloom but always with the knowledge that his real thrill comes from “destroying lives.” Eww.

It’s a nasty, intoxicating and profitable world she’s living in, and it’s always a gamble to stay ahead of law enforcement, which proves impossible when she’s running up against her debt load, her drug addiction and Russian mobsters.

The first hour that sets up her colorful life and game is fast-paced, “West Wing” Sorkin quality compared to the weaker second half, and the film is always best when it pairs Chastain with Idris Elba, her attorney (with his own bright daughter) who’s willing to gamble on this strong woman.

What’s most surprising about the splashy script is that, in the end, you know you’ve heard a story well-told, but you’re not sure why or if you’re supposed to care about Molly and what happens to her.

She’s that chilly, and the story is that focused on the glitz-factor as opposed to bringing a narrative concept full circle in a satisfying way, with dialogue that in turns can be precise or preachy.

To see Costner sit with Chastain on a park bench near the end and tell us why we should care — it’s almost as if someone told Sorkin, “We need this scene because people aren’t going to like her much without some kind of closure” — sticks out like a sore thumb.

But play your hand by checking out “Molly’s Game” and see if you don’t appreciate how smart films can be when the person writing knows that the devil is in the details.