Miss Sloane is directed by John Madden and stars Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alison Pill.
There’s really no way to discuss this movie without first talking about Jessica Chastain, who plays a woman so driven, so hard-as-nails and unsympathetic as to make her a near superhero of political lobbyists. These are people who are correctly described in this movie as being below the contempt of personal injury attorneys and snake oil salesmen in terms of their moral compass. Lobbying is likened to a chess or poker game, described in the opening scene as being all about foresight and anticipating your opponent’s moves and knowing what they are going to do but not letting them know what you are going to do until they’ve played their hand and it’s too late for them to respond. Win win win by any means necessary and if they have to bypass some pesky Congressional ethics laws on the way, the end justifies the means so who cares? Just don’t let yourself get caught and as long as you’re fighting for something you think is right, you can still sleep at night. Or so says Elizabeth Sloane, the tough-as-nails and completely unsympathetic title role played by Jessica Chastain.
Living the life of a driven, work-obsessed insomniac who is balancing her life with uppers and downers and a total lack of any personal connections, she seems to enjoy the fact that she is almost always considered the smartest person in the room with the sharpest wit and a talent for strategic planning that would out-manuever Patton and MacArther combined. Now if you can believe that about her, and that she has the kind of mind which is always two steps ahead of her political opponents, then you can believe that the events in Miss Sloan could really happen.
Unfortunately, I didn’t believe that and so had a hard time passing that suspension of disbelief test while watching. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy a lot of this and appreciate the bigger picture statements it was trying to make. It’s just that this movie is not really as smart as it would like to think it is, especially when all the easter eggs the movie lays throughout its over two hour run time start to hatch in the third act and everything comes together in a neat little bow that is far too tidy. I’m not going to spoil that ending for you or even tell you what the easter eggs were, because it’s not my place to ruin any of that for you when you see it. And despite its shortcomings, I think you should see it.
This film is ostensibly about lobbyists and gun control and if that is all anyone takes away from it, I think they’ll have missed. Gun control is used as a device to tell the story, but immigration reform or any other hot topic item could just as easily have been plugged in to this script and the basic plot would still not change. In fact, I confirmed this when I read an interview with the screenwriter where he said this very thing. No, the bottom line with this movie is that Washington has been broken by greed, self-interest and outright corruption and it desperately needs to be fixed. This is hardly a new or surprising message, especially given how almost half of America just voted to hit the reset button on the Executive Branch of our government and try something new because they are sick and tired of business as usual corruption and do-nothing partisan politics stopping any forward progress.
Now don’t get me wrong, because there’s nothing particuarly wrong with this message but if you are going to make a serious political thriller about it, then do it with a bit more umph, a bit more kick where it really belongs. Movies that got it right with the tone and attitude I’m talking about were All the President’s Men or Ides of March, or even Spotlight, even though that was about a different kind of corruption. This movie has its heart in the right place but the plot takes too many liberties with little things like reality and plausibility, so it’s hard to take this whole thing as seriously as it wants to be. But I think I know why this is.
First-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera has written what looks and sounds a lot like an Aaron Sorkin production in disguise. If you are familiar with West Wing or The Newsroom, then you know that sort of punchy, principle-filled repartee that sounds so snappy and full of wit but really only exists on the screen because no one in real life really thinks and talks in such an entertaining fashion. This movie has too many of these soap box moments and too little of real world dialogue. I say it’s Sorkin in disguise because where Sorkin excels in throwing in honestly hilarious zingers, there is very little humor here. This is serious, damn it! Sloan may throw out a couple of snappy one-liner retorts, but for the most part she and her bosses and co-workers are humorless people. That was a shortcoming and a pretty obvious one. This movie could have used a boost in the humor department just to make some of these people a bit more likable. I would have loved to see what this would have sounded like if someone like Quinten Tarantino had done some script doctoring.
John Madden is a good director. He made Shakespeare in Love and the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies amongst others. He knows how to effectively frame shots in Washington DC to show off its sights and sounds and put these characters in places where they look like they are doing heavy-duty manipulating of our elected leaders. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the acting or production design. It was distraction free and everything looked and felt exactly like it should have.
Overall, I have to give this movie a rating of just barely Pretty Good. It’s worth seeing if you are into movies about politics, if you want to learn more about lobbyists and get a ground-level view with what’s wrong with the system or you are interested in a moderately good time watching some good actors go through their paces.
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