Ever since Mr. Smith went to Washington, cinematic protagonists have planned to metaphorically blow the roof off the Capitol. Miss Sloane, a refugee from the fabled blacklist, is the latest in a long line of films that prove that the American political system is irreparably broken. Miss Sloane is not just a showcase for a prodigiously talented lead actress, but also proof that not every film produced from the blacklist ends in abject disappointment.
Lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) appears before a congressional ethics hearing led by Senator Sperling (John Lithgow, TV’s The Crown). Miss Sloane flashes back to months before, when she quit her top tier firm to join a smaller outfit’s campaign to pass a strict gun control bill, sacrificing the integrity of her coworkers (including Mark Strong, Grimsby, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Free State of Jones) along the way.
Miss Sloane opens with Chastain staring into the camera, pontificating on the nature of lobbying. She holds court with the audience from the beginning and never lets her teeth out of them. This is her movie, and no one can take it away from her: not her former boss (Sam Waterston, Grace and Frankie), not her monstrous former coworker (Michael Stuhlbarg, Arrival), nor the United States government itself. It’s a film that lives and dies on the strength of Chastain’s performance, and her commitment is admirable. The whole is not perfect — there’s a particularly odd pronunciation of “opinion” and a brief stretch of ridiculously stilted dialogue — but Chastain makes it work.
John Madden (The Second Best Marigold Hotel) directs debut screenwriter Jonathan Perera’s mostly intelligent screenplay in a tight, focused, fashion. There’s some obnoxious shorthand at play — the most pro-gun character in the film orders his steak well-done, which is how you know he’s evil — but Miss Sloane is so smart most of the time that you merely have to shake your head at its bizarre excesses, like Max Richter’s (TV’s The Leftovers) score, which is mainly boilerplate political-legal intrigue, but occasionally lurches into plinky romantic comedy shenanigans. It’s moments like these that make you question how they made it to the screen, but they are only enough to distract, not detract, from a solid ensemble piece with an even more solid lead.
Miss Sloane is a taut “thriller”, for lack of a better genre pigeonhole, brilliantly acted and intriguingly constructed, with only several baffling creative decisions bringing it slightly down. A hot political football that will be remembered for its lead’s commitment to her work, it’s well worth seeing — and, if you’re viewing it from the remove of a country outside the US, you can shake your head in wonder at a scenario that’s depressingly fabulist in its optimism.
Miss Sloane opened in Australian cinemas on March 2, 2017.
Directed by: John Madden.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg.