‘Miss Sloane’ review: Cunning, ruthless Chastain takes on ‘the swamp’
The political-thriller “Miss Sloane” (screened during AFI FEST 2016 and opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25) is the thematic antithesis to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Jessica Chastain’s morally flexible lobbyist is a perfectly guide in this riveting and timely takedown of modern D.C. politics.
In short: Powerful D.C. lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) takes on the powerful gun lobby as she joins an effort to pass a comprehensive gun control bill. Mark Strong, Guge Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg and John Lithgow also star.
An upfront warning: some percentage of the audience (specifically those supportive of gun rights) may be alienated by this film because the gun control lobbyists are clearly the white hats and the gun rights advocates are clearly the black hats.
So why even use gun control as a focal point if its very inclusion is elementally divisive? Its controversial nature is exactly why it is the perfect topic for “Sloane.” Almost everyone has a stance on the issue, ranging from cursory to passionate. This reaction automatically creates clear story stakes: rights and lives depend on Sloane’s success or failure. This in turn pushes each side to more intelligent, desperate and insidious decisions.
Sloane is every bit as much a brilliant tactician as she is manipulative, arrogant and ruthless. She is a pragmatist with no qualms with exploiting or leveraging anyone around her – be it adversary or ally – because the ends justify her means. And it’s impossible imagine anyone else but Chastain playing the titular role. She commands attention, exudes strength and effortlessly embraces Sloane’s callous nature.
The audience ultimately roots for Sloane because she is a formidable, focused and brilliant protagonist – even if she’s capable of horrifying strategies. She is an ethically flawed antihero working within and exploiting a system even more corrupt than her. Given the recent political season, it’s hard to ignore the film’s clear anti-lobbyist and “drain the swamp” sentiments.
The great weakness of “Miss Sloane” is the overreliance of her (apparently) omniscient foresight and machinations. The cold open firmly establishes Sloane’s philosophy of anticipating her enemy’s next moves. But at times, the film feels like a series of plot points scripted out by Sloane herself. Creating a scheming mastermind who constantly has the upper hand undermines the dramatic tension. It’s more engaging to watch a protagonist overcome a surprise than to watch Sloane effortlessly pivot around obstacles she saw coming a mile away. The fact that the film twists and turns is undermined by the fact that Chastain has somehow anticipated almost every possible plot point – a problem that effectively weakens the overall movie.
Final verdict: A Best Actress-caliber performance by Chastain and a layered story attacking modern federal legislation on various fronts makes “Miss Sloane” the one of the best political films since “Ides of March.”
“Miss Sloane” opens in select cities Nov. 25 and in theaters nationwide Dec. 9. The political thriller has a running time of 132 minutes and is rated R for language and some sexuality.