If only politics worked the way it does in Miss Sloane, or say, House of Cards. Sure, there would be all types of ugliness going on behind-the-scenes but the will of the people would be done, which is more than can be said for the last 30 years. The political thriller arrives as an entertaining diversion from the gloom of our current climate and the reality of a future Tweeter-in-Chief. If you're like me and think politics ought to be a ferocious contact sport then Miss Sloane is for you, and Jessica Chastain will be your new hero.
Chastain bears her claws as elite Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, a take-no-prisoners type who doesn't so much care about the issues. She cares about winning: period, pointblank, full stop. She will do ANYTHING to get the "W", and to say she'd stoop lower than a snake's belly to do it is an understatement. She is basically everything we hate about politics. Lobbyists are the reason why studies taken over decades show that public opinion has zero effect on legislation. Want to know what gets those politicians out of bed in the morning, though? Money, specifically special interest money. And the king of all special interests is the NRA and the gun lobby. How is it that more than 90% of the country wants background checks on gun purchases but our Congress keeps shooting it down, pun intended? Because of mercenary lobbyists like Sloane.
The only boundaries she won't cross are losing ones. At her prestigious firm she balks at the chance to represent the NRA in their bid to get more women buying guns. Not because she thinks it's wrong, but because she didn't like the approach. On the outs, she's hired by a low-level nonprofit run by the altruistic Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to head up a campaign for gun control. In reality that bill doesn't even make it to the floor of Congress. But in the world imagined by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera and director John Madden, all it takes is one woman with the sand to take on a bunch of Washington fat cats. God bless 'em for allowing us to indulge in this fantasy for a couple of hours.
Sloane is the kind of character you love to hate and hate to love, and to me those are always the best characters to watch. She's a damned wolverine out there but it cuts multiple ways, affecting her personal life and even her allies. Romantic relationships are out of the question, so she hires an escort (Jake Lacy, always playing lovestruck) who treats her like an actual person rather than someone to be feared. Prostitute with a heart of gold, eh? Seen that before, but Lacy sells it pretty well and has some great banter with Chastain. Sloane has no problem throwing her friends under the bus and using their secrets against them, which doesn't bode well for her colleague, Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is the humanist side to the lobbyist coin. Perera's screenplay make sure to show that lobbyists don't have to be awful people, and the character of Esme brings the compassion Sloane so wonderfully lacks. We learn only enough about Sloane's backstory to know there is one. No need to bog us down in the details of what made her so scary.
Perera's script seems inspired by the "walk and talk" style of Aaron Sorkin, moving quickly and with an abundance of witticisms. But also like Sorkin that leads to a lot of really canned dialogue that is often on-the-nose or corny, most of it at the expense of both political ideologies. Both get skewered equally for the most part, so relax if you think this is Hollywood sticking it to conservatives.. Liberals are painted as pansies unwilling to fight ("My liberal ideology won't allow me to own a car.") while conservatives are portrayed as aggressively uncaring. But the real danger is shown to be the Washington power structure which could care less about political Party. One of the film's most honest depictions is how quickly it can turn against anyone, even someone like Sloane who had once been such a key cog in the system. How dare she go and do the peoples' business?
Dressed in an array of power suits, crimson hair matching her fiery performance, Chastain always strikes a stunning image. In a career of notable roles this one ranks near the top for Chastain and she helps ground the film when it starts to go a little off the rails, or when it gets bogged down in legalese. A great supporting cast (John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Alison Pill have small but pivotal roles) surrounds her, and part of the fun is watching their many stunned reaction shots every time Sloane does something unpredictable. Which is quite often.
Miss Sloane is pure political wish fulfillment, to the extent that it shouldn't matter where you land on the 2nd Amendment issue. Strategy and tactics take the lead over ideology. Sloane loves to say "Play your Trump card right after they play theirs." For Miss Sloane the Trump card is Chastain, who takes a character that could easily be hated and makes her one we wish really existed. Despite her obvious flaws, the world would be a much better place if there were a few more Elizabeth Sloanes around Washington.
Rating: 4 out of 5