It’s a story that involves politics, lobbying, lies, rumour, smearing, corruption, solicitation, and all the other shady doings that occupies our collective worst views of government. But in Miss Sloane, that’s all on the surface. Underneath is a singular character, a brilliant and highly flawed woman motivated by winning, brought to life with a fantastic performance by Jessica Chastain.
“She ends up being sympathetic,” said director John Madden says of Chastain. “There is a fragility and vulnerability and femininity that she never loses, even in this role. The moment she is on the back foot, you’re with her, and you see her on the back foot very quickly in this film.”
That’s because Chastain’s titular character, Elizabeth Sloane, is about to be brought to a hearing questioning her practices as a lobbyist, and whether or not she has broken the law. Of course there are ulterior motives as well, and we soon learn about what brought her to this pivotal moment as we navigate a weeks long campaign for a gun control control bill.
Despite her cold demeanor, her calculations and manipulations, Sloane is both captivating and winsome.
“It’s very counterintuitive, she doesn’t behave well, continued Madden, who sat down ahead of the film’s release in Toronto. “That’s a credit to the actress, but there is also an overt narrative, a covert narrative, and a hidden narrative about her. She is somebody who always wins, and never wants to do anything but win; there is nothing beyond this lethally defined idea of doing what she does better than anyone else does. Most women in movies are defined by completely different things. It’s this slow reclamation of her humanity. She gains humanity by making mistakes.”
Madden points out that lobbying is a mostly male profession, and reminds that this was indeed a role always written and meant for a woman. What’s more, she wouldn’t be defined by being a woman, and her motives and actions have little to nothing to do with her gender.
“There was never any attempt to make any value judgment on the character,” he said. “She is just a creature the likes of which were not used to seeing in films, to me if was interesting because she is a far from perfect creature. She is somebody who doesn’t care or even notice or even bother to alter her behavior to limit the collateral damage, and she creates it wherever she goes. You could describe it as a feminist movie in one way: it’s about empowering women. The key characters in terms of the narrative are women, but strangely I consider it the opposite. The things she does have nothing to do with her gender strictly. The way other people respond to her has everything to do with her gender, but she specifically declares herself as someone not interested in gender.”
The film proceeds with discussions about guns and liberties, with alliances broken and forged, and never any certainty. Sloane maneuvers a young team of aspirants up against a powerful political lobby, backed up by her former colleagues. Miss Sloane thrills with twists and turns, and makes every calculated step with a compelling character at the centre.
“It’s the occasion, the context,” said Madden. “There are many ways of describing the film, but a gun control drama doesn’t begin to get at what it is. It’s much more about political process and how things get done and what doesn’t get done. Above all, it’s a character study of a very very unusual creature.”