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Jessica Chastain Brings Poker Princess Molly Bloom Into Sharp Focus at Toronto

TIFF 2017: Was Molly Bloom a shady operator creating an exclusive club of gambling addicts? Or a striver who built an empire wherever a girl could get a toehold?

There was once a real-life princess of poker who organized high-stakes games in plush private spaces for movie stars, Wall Street honchos and tech billionaires — and got nailed by the feds for her trouble.

That’s the story of Molly Bloom, told in richly verbal detail (including plenty of voiceover) in “Molly’s Game” in the signature style of our generation’s premier dialogue-driven storyteller, Aaron Sorkin. The film debute at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday night.

Jessica Chastain takes on the role of Bloom with gusto, imbuing our unlikely heroine with equal parts sex appeal, opportunism and business smarts. The movie chooses not to portray the real-life movie stars Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio who were regulars at her weekly games at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Michael Cera is the stand-in for Maguire, reportedly the most serious and successful gambler among them. But the movie trips along at a brisk pace nonetheless and entertains as it sketches the increasingly murky moral, not to mention legal, ground on which Bloom stands.

Was Molly Bloom a shady operator who used her beauty and savvy to create an exclusive club of gambling addicts? Or a principled striver who built an empire wherever a girl could get a toehold?

In his directorial debut, Sorkin opts for the latter, and Chastain plays Bloom as a noble rogue who declines to rat out her former customers to get a better deal from the feds after she is charged with racketeering. Idris Elba plays her lawyer, who comes around to the notion that his client is self-sacrificing — another facet of Bloom’s unconventional morality.

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“I wanted to tell this story because I met Molly,” Sorkin told the audience after the first Toronto screening. “She is an effortlessly impressive person — very smart, very strong, very funny.” (Bloom was in the room, Sorkin added.)

Sorkin went on to call her a “unique movie heroine.”

Chastain adds this performance to a fascinating series of strong female characters in her oeuvre — from an intelligence operative in “Zero Dark Thirty” to tough-as-nails lobbyist in “Miss Sloane” to a 19th-century frontierswoman Catherine Weldon in another film debuting in Toronto, “Woman Walks Ahead.”

She said meeting Molly Bloom helped her create the character. But most helpful was getting to “infiltrate poker games in New York. I watched people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The only thing more fun than that may be watching really famous people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. STX distributes “Molly’s Game” in November.