Whatever rather justified malaise or cynicism any number of us might (or really should) have towards politics takes a very swift back seat in Miss Sloane, despite the central figure navigating Washington as a ruthless lobbyist.
It’s a film about double-crossing, corruption, grandstanding, public images, and oh yes, gun control. Yet, the masterful central performance by Jessica Chastain and the deftness of director John Madden create a riveting political thriller with a powerful female figure at its heart who you can’t take your eyes off.
Elizabeth Sloane is crafty, a monomancial, calculating lobbyist whose allegiances and beliefs exist and change based on what is needed to produce a victory. In this instance, after being offered a job by rich, white, out-of-touch men to coerce women into liking guns, Sloane pivots suddenly and violently, taking over instead a small campaign fighting for gun control. In this move, her colleagues and superiors become her enemies, taking with her some staff but losing one of her closest employees (Alison Pill) in joining this underfunded, disregarded group.
Her motives are uncertain, but her life outside lobbying is meaningless. She has an apartment, but often takes to a hotel. That’s because she has no partner (and no time), and an escort awaits her in a room. She doesn’t drive, dines nightly at a Chinese diner, and has no friends: just people she positions, some on her side, and some on the other.
Still, she is most compelling, even sympathetic. Chastain has an uncanny ability right from the start, to make Sloane winsome, despite her deep flaws. We watch as she barely holds onto her job and her life (which are in fact pretty much the same thing). However much she manipulates, we can tell part of her is losing control.
Director John Madden is similarly sneaky. See, Sloane only lets people in when it works for her. She guides and plays a long con to get people to move where she needs them. Only alone do we start to see her shell crack. However, it’s still what Madden wants us to see, and he, like Sloane, has some tricks up his sleeve; this rapid-paced thriller starts in the present as Sloane is on trial for her tactics, while maneuvering through the past of the gun control bill.
Which itself is somewhat staggering, considering Miss Sloane is made up mostly of tense conversations in various rooms. Sloane’s ragtag team, working under the purview of the wonderfully-named Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), uses clever rhetoric, carefully manipulation, and some well-timed montages to pull and tug at Congress, while her former allies (Sam Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg) push back against a woman they know all too well.
While tangentially about the political process, or lack thereof, and some of the finer points on the gun control debate, Miss Sloane is a vehicle for Chastain, a story about a woman defined by her career and her drive instead of being defined by a man. It’s a feminist tale under the guise of a political mystery with an indefatigable, layered woman who, ever close to demise, has one more step planned. That makes this film, and especially the ending, mesmerizing.
- Release Date: 12/9/2016