Miss Sloane, 2016.
Directed by John Madden.
Starring Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy and Sam Waterston.
Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most in-demand political lobbyist in Washington DC. Famous for her ruthless cunning, she’s poached from a large agency by a smaller one, headed Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to oppose an initiative she would have been advocating had she stayed with her previous company. She takes the brightest members of her team with her and gets working on a plan that soon has her opponents on the run. Until they decide to fight dirty.
Politics and Miss Sloane seem to go hand in hand. Opening in the States just a few days after the Presidential election had a dramatic effect on the film’s box office – and not good one. Director John Madden openly acknowledges that what would have been its natural audience was hardly in the mood for a movie. And now it arrives in the UK slap bang in the middle of a General Election. It’s hardly likely to affect its takings, but it does give the film a ring of topicality, with its gripping insight into the machinations that go into getting a bill passed. An American one, admittedly, but a bill nonetheless.
Although it’s set in the world of political lobbying, Miss Sloane is essentially packaged up as a meaty thriller, one with twists and turns at just about every juncture. And, as you can’t see the majority of them coming, it grabs your attention and keeps a firm hold. It’s not a flattering portrait, one of double dealings and dirty tricks, confirming what we, the public, had expected. But it is still a work of fiction and, if anything illustrates that, it’s Sloane herself, who fancies herself as something of a superwoman. She never sleeps, takes drugs to keep awake, but her capacity to get around Washington and the USA as a whole every single day has to be seen to be believed. In reality, it would be impossible to keep on top of a schedule like hers without falling apart, but she never does. Those pills are little miracle workers. But she is gloriously ruthless and takes no prisoners – and nor does the film.
Chastain grabs the part by the throat and gives it full throttle. She looks immaculate, clad in bold primary colours with brilliant red hair and lipstick set against her naturally porcelain skin. Her heels are of the killer variety and her manicure permanently chip-free. And she rarely cracks a smile. You wouldn’t want to work for her, even if you thought you were on her right side, because you never know where her right side is. If it hadn’t been invented already, she would have coined the phrase about it being a good day to bury bad news, but she commands the screen from start to finish. She’s a mass of contradictions, an unsympathetic central character who galvanises the film and, despite everything, gets your support.
She has a terrific cast alongside her, including two Brits cast as Americans – Mark Strong as her new boss who constantly wonders what on earth he’s taken on and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as her protégé who she exploits like everybody else. There’s veterans like John Lithgow and Sam Waterston (drawing on his Law And Order credentials) deliver as well. The one character we could perhaps have done without is the male escort, Ford (Jake Lacy) who is eventually called in front of the Senate Committee to give evidence. Sloane is, of course, a client – she wouldn’t have time for a boyfriend – but he really doesn’t add a great deal to the plot and wouldn’t have been missed.
Miss Sloane is one of a number of films this year which can be filed in the “good but not great” category. There’s more than enough to hold the audience’s interest and top of the list is Chastain’s performance. She’s missed out on the recognition that the performance really deserves but don’t let that stop you enjoying what is a barnstorming piece of acting. And, just in case you think the film is devoid of subtlety, think on this. You know what she’s doing is wrong. She’s amoral and she’s crossed the line – but somewhere there’s a teeny part of you that also agrees with what she’s doing. And, in her shoes, you’d probably do the same.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★