Director: John Madden Starring: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw Running Time: 132 minutes
In John Madden’s Miss Sloane, the determined and ruthless D.C. lobbyist Madeline Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is treated with a blend of fear and respect by all those around her. After being asked to support a pro-gun group in their fierce opposition of a new bipartisan bill which would see stricter gun control laws imposed on those purchasing firearms, Sloane decides to leave her prestigious lobbying firm behind to join the much smaller and significantly less powerful firm run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) and pass the new bill through the Senate. However, Sloane soon realises the depths to which both her and her opponents must sink in order to get what they want.
It is hard to separate Miss Sloane from its politics. While some have dubbed it ‘liberal political propaganda’ others have celebrated its strong stance on the issue of gun control, with many making up their minds prior to seeing the film itself. While it very much stands on one side of the fence, the film is less concerned with being a political propaganda piece as much as it is with discussing the choice between morality and professional gain. From the offset, we see a conflicted Sloane who has assessed the situation and taken a controversial stance on a very conservative battleground. Instead of continuing her successful career she stands up for what she believes in in the face of incredible professional and personal scrutiny.
As ever, Jessica Chastain gives an incredibly impressive performance despite some shaky material from first-time writer Jonathan Perera. Her steely gaze says more about the character than 10 pages of dialogue ever could – she is a ruthless and tenacious woman who values winning over friendship, clarity over ambiguity and fear over admiration. Chastain’s performance allows us to understand this early on in the film, which, in turn, helps us comprehend the way in which she treats people and the decisions she makes. As she cooly navigates the waters of American politics, the film becomes quietly compelling and fiercely entertaining in parts, especially as it picks up speed towards the 3rd act.
Despite the level of performance Chastain offers up, the film does trip over itself at points. First-time writer Jonathan Perera unfortunately opts for some questionable narrative choices in the second act which strip back Sloane’s well cultivated mystique in place of a closer glimpse into her personal life. In doing this, the audience misses out on the opportunity to crack the enigma that is ‘Elizabeth Sloane’ and to become more engaged by projecting their opinions onto this character who offers up no political ideals or convictions yet takes a stand on such a controversial issue. As a result, some scenes tend to stifle and frustrate Chastain’s performance and can feel out of place – as if a heavy edit resulted in more important scenes being left on the cutting room floor.
That’s not to say that Perera’s script is terrible – as far as debuts go its actually quite impressive and undoubtedly ambitious! While some scenes fall flat, others play out more like a Paddy Chayefsky or Aaron Sorkin flick, both of whom are obviously sources of inspiration. The story is well-structured for the most part and offers an inside-look into the mysterious world of political lobbying. However, the naturalness of Chayefsky is missed on occasion in place of an overly prepared and practised way of speaking, filled with lines that you wish you had said but never could have conjured up in the heat of the moment. In the same respect, the levity and wit that is deep-rooted in Sorkin’s work is hard to find in Miss Sloane. Despite these mishaps, Perera could (and hopefully will!) do greater things in the future, as he presents enough of a foundation that can be built upon.
Miss Sloane is flawed, but with Chastain’s performance, some workmanlike direction from John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and solid performances from the ever-capable Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark Strong and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, it really does compel and engross its audience. Just like its titular character, Miss Sloane is a smart, contentious, interesting movie, which allows you to admire its stance, while questioning its delivery.(3 / 5)