Amid all the movies that distinguished themselves at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, perhaps no movie did so with words more than "Molly's Game." The film is a motormouth-y throwback, the kind that in the age of images and spectacle grooves to what movies once grooved to: well-crafted dialogue.
But what else would you expect from the feature directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin?
"I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone I love language. It's the only way I have of communicating creatively," Sorkin, the Emmy-winning creator of "The West Wing" and Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Social Network," told The Times in Toronto.
"I can't draw; I can't write music. I don't see in my head what David Lean saw with camels coming up [over the horizon]. This is how I do it."
"Molly's Game," which hits theaters from STX on Christmas Day, will test more than just ears: it will gauge whether Sorkin, whose hits as a screenwriter stretch from "A Few Good Men" to "Moneyball," can appeal to mass audiences as a director too.
A fact-based story about the real-life poker-game operator Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the drama follows the title character as she masterminds an underground game for the mega-rich and famous in Los Angeles and New York, trying to outmaneuver her enemies and avoid calling everyone out when she lands on the legal hot seat.
When Bloom speaks — in voice-over, in haggling with a composite-character super-player (Michael Cera), in conversations with her lawyer (Idris Elba), it's essentially nonstop — the movie is maximum Sorkin. It offers a continuous stream of eloquent gems, all while putting its people where Sorkin most likes them: at the nexus of morality and opportunity.
"We live in a time when people sell each other out and the rest of us don't seem to mind," the filmmaker said. "And here was someone that it just came naturally to — not to do the wrong thing."
Chastain added that, though Bloom was ultimately running a game for her own profit and makes "very, very bad choices" throughout the film, "she's absolutely a role model, because she didn't give away what she believed was right just for money or fame."
The actress laughed about getting her brain to work at Sorkin speed, saying it helped that she had learned to perform the work of a wide range of modern writers while studying acting in school at Juilliard.
Sorkin says he doesn't see himself as a stylist, though "Molly's Game" does have a certain directorial flair, a sort of quick-cut appeal that mirrors his dialogue. Sorkin worked with a team of three editors to achieve this effect. ("My directorial style is saying yes to really talented people when they have a good idea," he said dryly at a press conference at Toronto.)
The movie also lands in the midst of an ongoing conversation about female representation in Hollywood. Sorkin has taken his lumps on the topic, absorbing criticism that his female characters aren't given sufficient depth or often need to be redeemed by men. That notion would seem to be given the lie here, with Bloom the ultimate in character autonomy; even her aforementioned lawyer is someone who bows to her, not the other way around.
"I think Molly is a great feminist icon. She cares about the right stuff, which we kind of forget because she says a lot of things very fast," Sorkin said. He noted the gender dynamics that Bloom must contend with often involve "some powerful guy [throwing a tantrum] because he feels Molly is attracted to some other powerful guy."
Chastain believes the movie will quell skepticism about Sorkin's portrayals of women.
"Aaron could have directed anything and chose as his first film to direct a movie about the illustrious career of a great female protagonist," she said. "In an industry that doesn't always seem to be interested in women, that tells you a lot."
This story is part of The Times' Holiday movie preview. See our complete coverage here.