Director: John Madden
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugo Mbatha-Raw, Christine Baranski, Jake Lacy
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: May 12th
The first image we see in Miss Sloane is of the titular character (Jessica Chastain) talking directly to camera, explaining the necessary skills it takes to become a successful lobbyist. It is all about “foresight”, “anticipating your opponents moves”, and to be “one step ahead”. It almost appears that Elizabeth Sloane is telling the audience to be wary and not take any of the actions that she takes at face value. Just in case you are wondering, yes, this is the work of a first-time screenwriter.
It turns out that opening speech is actually being addressed to Sloane’s lawyer as she is preparing to be questioned at a congressional hearing for violations of Senate ethics rules. The rest of the film is mostly told in flashback as Sloane surprises the bosses of her lobbying firm by not only refusing to lead the opposition of a proposed gun control bill on the behalf of gun manufacturers, but actually joins a rival firm to support the bill. Sloane is prepared to win by any means necessary, often horrifying her new boss, played by Mark Strong.
Sloane’s reason for choosing to lobby for the bill remain enigmatic throughout the film, in fact one running gag is people assuming that Sloane must be a victim of gun violence, much to her annoyance. What is not enigmatic is where the film lies politically, wearing its liberal heart on its sleeve, being pro-gun control and anti-corruption. One problem is that the film doesn’t offer anything new to the conversation, reaching its peak during a televised debate that Sloane participates in where she lists the textbook arguments for gun control (More guns cause more harm than good! They had muskets when they wrote the 2nd amendment). These points are so familiar at this stage they lack bite and as a result the film has little impact as a political statement.
Much of this can be blamed on Jonathan Perera’s script. The film feels like a diet version of a Aaron Sorkin project but it struggles to match the quality of even his weaker projects, it does however match the quantity of both walking and talking. The script weakness is truly exposed in its final act, which the film takes a turn for the stupid, relying on a twist that is so implausible that it is amazing that it even made the first draft let alone the final cut.
That the film is not a complete failure is down largely to the central performance of Chastain. On paper the character of Elizabeth Sloane is pretty one-dimensional. She is head strong and determined, prepared to throw anyone under the bus in order to succeed but other than that she remains a blank slate. It is to Chastain’s great credit that she makes this potentially unsympathetic character engaging to watch, more notably during the film’s quieter moments, when we are allowed some brief glimpses at the person behind the overblown Machiavellian character. In this a solid supporting cast backs her up, in particular Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a member of her team who was the survivor of a mass shooting.
That Miss Sloane is a watchable and at time entertaining film is down to Chastain’s engaging central performance and an array of strong supporting actors. As a statement of the American political landscape (Washington is corrupt, who knew?) the film feels more paper cut than cutthroat. There is some enjoyment to be had, but if you already have any degree of common sense and believe that America’s lax gun laws are incredibly nonsensical, then nothing here will tell you what you don’t already know.