by Hope Madden
I’m curious. Is every film going to take on sharper, darker political meaning post-election? Because Miss Sloane definitely does.
First time screenwriter Jonathan Perera’s much-lauded screenplay documents Elizabeth Sloane, DC super-lobbyist. Driven and single-minded to a nearly sociopathic degree, Sloane finally finds a line she’s unwilling to cross when the gun lobby wants to hire her to make guns more appealing to women.
She abandons the big time firm that demands she rethink her gun-control stance and goes to work instead for the liberal opposition.
Though far from flawless, Miss Sloane has a lot to offer. Mainly, Jessica Chastain.
Her fierce performance and comfort with ambiguity come together in a turn that mesmerizes. This is an anti-hero, and Chastain gives her enough savvy, contempt, drive, self-loathing and vulnerability to make her fascinating. Not knowable, but forever provocative.
Though no other character in the film is nearly so fleshed out, a game supporting cast – including the welcome Michael Stuhlbarg and a pitch-perfect Mark Strong – help balance Chastain’s blistering presence.
Director John Madden – whose work tends toward the safer and tamer (Shakespeare in Love, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) – here amplifies Chastain’s fiery delivery with frenetic camera movement and sudden close ups. He creates a pace that keeps attention, even when the screenplay begins to slog.
What’s exceptional about the film, aside from Chastain, is the way its core plotline and its greater themes work together. The us-versus-them battle, with each lobbyist one-upping the other in the most unconscionable (yet clever) ways, commands attention. But beneath all that Miss Sloane clarifies the way in which the American public is never privy to true information.
What we get, in its stead, is the narrative being pushed in increasingly obfuscated ways by different stakeholders.
The film builds to speechifying and heavy moralizing, often feeling too clever for its own good. It settles, while its titular firebrand would not. But before all the self-righteous Aaron Sorkinisms, Madden, Perera and Chastain get an awful lot right.
They push envelopes when it comes to a female anti-hero, answering only as many questions as necessary and leaving room for Chastain’s performance to fill in some gaps.
Together they also unleash an appropriately cynical view of a political system that is rotten.