Review: Miss Sloane's Jessica Chastain is the lobbyist who will do whatever it takes to win

"Miss Sloane reflects the current political climate with laser precision, revealing warts and all."



Miss Sloane digs deep into the dark heart of Washington, D.C. It’s a fitting film for the age of Trump, painting the political scene as a cutthroat world of con artists.

Jessica Chastain stars as Elizabeth Sloane, a lobbyist who will do whatever it takes to win. When she’s asked to fight against a bill that imposes regulations on guns, we expect her to jump at the chance. But to everyone’s surprise, she takes the moral high ground and joins the underdog boutique firm trying to put the bill into law. Sloane finds herself dueling with former colleagues, and we see that she doesn’t believe in loyalty — only in victory.

The film plays out as an Aaron Sorkin-esque drama in which sharp-tongued intellectuals wield words like weapons. The characters are as mean as they are smart, and their nasty battle of wits evokes the same frustrating yet thrilling feeling we got from watching the presidential debates. We say we want a civilized dialogue when it comes to politics, but deep down, we also want to see discussions turn dirty. In this age of viral video, we crave the spectacle of polished public figures behaving badly or being pushed off their pedestals.

Bad behavior is a crucial part of Sloane’s strategy. She throws friends and colleagues under the bus without batting an eye. The film stumbles when it tries to make her shady methods seem more noble than her opponents’ actions. Jonathan Perera’s screenplay loses strength when he gives the titular ice queen a conscience. It feels tacked on rather than something she grows gradually throughout the film. Like Sloane herself, the film is better when it doesn’t pull any punches. Its attempts to be heartfelt feel somewhat awkward and unnatural.

Miss Sloane is ultimately a showcase for Chastain, who gives the best performance of her career thus far. Like she did in Zero Dark Thirty, she creates a character who’s at once frightening and magnetic. Sloane’s steely determination is spellbinding. That’s not to say the film is without other compelling characters though. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) sinks his teeth into the role of Sloane’s nemesis, who’s every bit as mean as she is but not nearly as articulate. Mark Strong is also fun to watch as Sloane’s sarcastic boss. “Were you ever normal or was this behavior hardwired into you from the womb?” he asks her late in the film.

This is a darker, edgier film for director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). And unlike many of his other films, which explore other eras and generally simpler, more romantic settings, Miss Sloane reflects the current political climate with laser precision, revealing warts and all. It’s a film we need right now — one that forces us to stare into the abyss and understand what lies in the darkness. Miss Sloane holds a mirror up to the ugliness of the political world. It’s a hypnotic, haunting spectacle.


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