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I, Tonya

One of the worst human traits is envy. Envy at what others have is a notion that has started life-long feuds, wars and death. It’s not a likeable emotion to have but sadly rules certain people’s lives until their death. ‘I, Tonya’ explores how envy can go spectacularly wrong. Based on true events which made world headlines, it’s a cautionary tale in envy getting out of control. It’s a well-made film with performances highlighting the pitfalls of envy in all its ugliness.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is a figure skater who has participated in the sport her whole life. Aiming for Olympic medals and being the best in her field, her ambition knows no limits. Married to Jeff (Sebastian Stan), Tonya has long tried to move from under the shadow of her controlling mother Fay (Allison Janney). When Tonya’s fiercest skating rival Nancy Kerrigan looks set to win an important contest those closest to Tonya take it upon themselves to change the outcome. Their actions unleash hell upon Tonya’s life with scandal and deception overtaking her stormy life.

‘I, Tonya’ is often unbearable viewing due to its vile, grotesque characters. That’s what makes is so compelling with the trashy, soap opera style narrative demanding attention from the first frame. ‘I, Tonya’ doesn’t shy away from the fact that it depicts a group of white trash people desperate to achieve anything at any cost. Whether it’s by deception, violence and the worshipping of greed, Tonya and her bizarre family and friends know no limits.

Thankfully the script doesn’t make Tonya Harding look like an innocent caught up in a quagmire. Her flaws and those of her husband and mother are gleefully and painfully shown. The acting is top notch with Robbie and Janney delivering powerhouse performances. Craig Gillespie directs in an almost documentary style which achieves the gritty authenticity for which he strives. The era of the 80s & 90s never looked to tacky with the skating sequences just as breath-taking as the ghastly actions of all involved.

‘I, Tonya’ won’t make you instantly love Tonya Harding. That’s why it works in exploring envy and infamy in honest and kitsch detail. But by the end you understand why things happened and Harding’s feelings towards her loved ones. Recent movie biographies haven’t been as trashy as this one, with ‘I, Tonya’ being a flashy ode to a slice of history taste definitely forgot.

Rating out of 10: 8

Molly’s Game

‘Molly’s Game’ is based on true events. Most films derived from real life tales tend to be more engrossing. This is because the situations really happened gives it a fresh intensity many fictional stories lack. ‘Molly’s Game’ also explores the world of gambling which the majority have partaken in one time or another. We all know the tension and pressure this can cause which screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, making his directorial debut, unearths with great skill.

Molly Brown (Jessica Chastain) is a former Olympic skier wanting more out of life. With her controlling father Larry (Kevin Costner) unable to tame her wild ways, Molly comes up with a sure-fire money-maker. Establishing a high-stakes poker game in New York and Los Angeles, her list of clients quickly grows. From movie stars, athletes, businessmen and eventually the Russian mob, for years, Molly is on a roll. The FBI catches on to her scheme and arrests her. Aided by her lawyer Charlie (Idris Elba), Molly attempts to ease out of her predicament before the last roll of the dice has time to settle.

Known for creating hit TV shows such as ‘the West Wing’, Aaron Sorkin utilises the same dramatic style for ‘Molly’s Game’. Featuring a character wanting to escape the predictability of life by indulging in an unpredictable pastime, Sorkin infuses a sense of danger in his script. This atmosphere is helped immeasurably by the shadowy cinematography, highlighting the dingy world Molly inhabits. Sorkin’s film benefits from Chastain’s strong performance as a woman determined to carve out her own life away from her father.

Costner and Elba also give fine performances in a generally engaging film. Whilst its momentum gradually deflates, the moments in between where Molly chooses which poker players can join her game are fascinating. This is made even more so because these events actually occurred with the world of poker having its own joys and dangers. The eyes of non-gamblers may glaze over during the technical briefings of the games but it’s the characters making ‘Molly’s Game’ compelling.

Poker playing hasn’t been this interesting as ‘Molly’s Game’ shows. Although occasionally slow with scenes amounting to padding, it’s a well-acted drama. For a first-time director, Sorkin has made a fine entrance to the silver screen with his next project hopefully as captivating as his current one.

Rating out of 10: 7