UK Release Date: 12th May 2017
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: John Madden
Writer: Jonathan Perera
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, John Lithgow
Synopsis: A top lobbyist leaves her high-flying firm to join a smaller organisation taking on the NRA and other groups in campaigning for a landmark bill demanding background checks for gun owners.
The strange, murky world of Washington lobbying is an interesting backdrop for a political thriller movie and John Madden‘s Miss Sloane does a terrific job of bringing that world to life in a whirl of glossy visuals and Sorkinesque dialogue that fizzes off the tongues of the talented cast. With the timely issue of gun control at its centre, as well as the manipulative power of the media, it’s a movie that feels incredibly relevant in the modern world. Thankfully, Shakespeare in Love director Madden handles everything with flair and intelligence, never becoming bogged down in the wordy political argument that could’ve torpedoed the story.
Hotshot Capitol Hill lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is at the top of her firm, but angers her superiors when she refuses to lobby against a bill expanding background checks for gun owners. She is approached by a rival firm, led by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), who are seeking to get the bill passed. Sloane pits herself against former colleague Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), with the help of kind-hearted activist Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), as they pull out every trick in the book. Meanwhile, in a flash-forward framing device, Senator Sperling (John Lithgow) leads an inquiry into Sloane’s practices.
First and foremost, Miss Sloane is a wonderful showcase for Jessica Chastain. This is a role that enables her to portray surprising complexity. Sloane is a character who initially seems like the cliché of a cold career woman, entirely focused on her job with sex and food seen as simple, emotionless transactions. However, the film does a stellar job of broadening the character’s range and imbuing her with emotion and very strong principles. The movie sets out very clearly that Chastain’s character is driven by principle and deeply held beliefs rather than cold, hard cash or even a desire to win.
There’s a real, almost lyrical, joy to the dialogue in Miss Sloane, with debut screenwriter Jonathan Perera channeling the best of Aaron Sorkin with fast-paced barbs. Chastain benefits most from the script’s wit, wrapping her tongue around every one-liner and delivering acid-tongued putdowns with ease. Michael Stuhlbarg, as her lobbying rival, and Mark Strong, as her new boss, also get plenty to work with and there are twists and turns throughout the narrative. Rug pulls come thick and fast in the wake of double crosses and political manoeuvring, right up until the intense courtroom finale.
Away from the mud-slinging in the political sphere, there’s an emotional heart to the film in the shape of Gugu Mbatha-Raw – star of Belle. Mbatha-Raw plays an activist working at Strong’s firm, who is driven by her own personal experience in a way that is refreshingly real in the face of the political wrangling and point-scoring utilised by many of the other characters. It’s Mbatha-Raw who is at the centre of many of the film’s most resonant sequences and she goes on a real journey as her relationship with Chastain develops in a variety of different and unexpected directions.
Miss Sloane flags slightly in its courtroom scenes and is a little overlong at just over two hours, but it has enough in the way of surprises and momentum to keep the story moving. Chastain’s performance is one of virtuosity and expertise that brings a hot political issue to the fore and sheds light on the dark arts of the Washington lobbying industry. It’s a verbose film that isn’t for everyone, but there’s an undeniable gloss and style to the whole thing from start to finish.
Pop or Poop?
Jessica Chastain gets a showcase worthy of her talents in the complex, thrilling lobbying tale Miss Sloane. Gun control is a sideshow rather than the heart of the story, but the practices and ethics of lobbying are questioned through the consequences of the story and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s nuanced, raw turn.
It’s not perfect and, for some, it might be a little wordy and dry, but there’s a wit to the script and a style to the production that makes it a gripping story of insider corruption and complicated moral quandaries.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.