In real life, people have always found politics to be a bit boring, but make a film or a TV show about the corridors of power and you’re almost guaranteed a hit. Miss Sloane is one such film, revolving around a lobbyist and talking about one of the big issues of the day. But although Jessica Chastain does well in the eponymous role, the rest of the film is somewhat listless and simple, despite its pretentions.
Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is one of the most sought-after lobbyists in Washington, D.C., thanks to her sharp mind and her willingness to bend the rules for her clients. When asked to help oppose a bill that imposes regulations on firearms, Sloane takes the surprising step of joining a scrappy boutique firm representing the backers of the law. Her defiant stance and her determination to win give the backers a new hope that they may actually manage to defy the odds and get the law passed – it also means, though, that Sloane has become the target of powerful enemies who threaten her career, her reputation and the people she cares about in order to win.
Perhaps unsurprisingly give the title of the movie, Miss Sloane rides on the performance at its centre. Chastain is compelling in the role, and her ability to convey a kind of complicated and devious intelligence is massively fitting for this performance – with just one look, you get the air of a lot bubbling under the surface. She’s bright and unyielding, and she powers the film forwards, making a character we’ve seen many times before seem a new and refreshing one.
If I could pick a fault with Sloane, it’s that her character is rather overwritten – the film is so obsessed with her cleverness and capacity, it struggles to toe the line between suspending disbelief and being absurd. Sloane tells a character that she’s good because she knows how to play her trump card right after her opponents have played theirs, but these types of characters become a bit tiresome if they’ve a deck full of them.
Sloane is far more a presence than the rest of cast. The only person to really get a look-in is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who (in her role as a mass shooting survivor) functions as the film’s conscience and the only person really able to get anything human out of Sloane. If Chastain is the motor that drives the film, Mbatha-Raw is its heart, and she generates the only real human moments of the picture.
Mark Strong pops up as the head of the boutique firm, but he essentially looks on exasperated throughout the picture. The only other particularly significant cast member is John Lithgow, who plays a senator. This movie flits between the story of the bill and the ethics hearing that follows it, and Lithgow’s main role is as arbitrator there.
This film flopped in America, and one reason for that is that it discusses a complex issue and comes down very heavily on one side of it – in this case, pro-increased regulations. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but, in portraying the other side as evil corruptors, blackmailing and bribing and generally throwing their power around in order to get their own way, you’re going to turn off people who back that side.
Another issue is the sheer overwritten contrivance of the picture. This is a film that really comes from the school of Aaron Sorkin. Characters delight in long spiels about issues, but they lack both the cleverness and the emotion – making a movie wordy is not the same as making it smart. The story also relies heavily on contrivance, culminating in a ludicrous pay-off that is absurd enough to be funny.
Miss Sloane works primarily because of its leading lady, but is nowhere near as smart as it makes out. There’s something hollow behind the words and the glossy veneer here, and it comes across. You know we talk about movies that are entertaining and a treat for your eyes while you watch them, but which turn out to be completely inconsequential the moment you leave the cinema? Replace eyes with ears, and you’ve got Miss Sloane.
Director: John Madden
Cast: Jessica Chastain (Elizabeth Sloane), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Esme Mancharian), John Lithgow (Congressman Ron M. Sperling), Alison Pill (Jane Molloy), Mark Strong (Rodolfo Schmidt), Michael Stuhlbarg (Jake Connors)
Running Time: 132 Mins