Obsessive Planning (Miss Sloane review)
The fact that we have tests to confirm women are being properly represented in film is an astounding thing, and simultaneously a disheartening one. I think this one deserves a pass.
Miss Sloane (2016)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Mark Strong, Jake Lacy
Director: John Madden
released on blu-ray March 21, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, Audience Score 62%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Theatre and film director John Madden and I share the same birthday – April 8th. Not really relevant to this review, but a fun tidbit nonetheless.
He is probably best known for directing the Academy Award winning Best Picture film, Shakespeare in Love. After that would likely be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But I think special attention should be paid to Mrs. Brown, the story of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Scottish servant John Brown, and the vastly underrated Proof, which is a story about madness and genius.
It’s even better than A Beautiful Mind, in my humble opinion. As for Miss Sloane, this is simply another matter of obsession. The movie centres around lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who is known for her cut throat tactics and visible paranoia.
Opening with Sloane at a hearing under allegations of bribery, Sloane is asked by her company lawyer to stick to a script, but she eventually reacts to a particularly triggering comment about self-medicating for insomnia, which comes at the end of particularly salty line of questioning from the congressmen Sperling (John Lithgow) at the head of the investigation.
We soon realize that this is a flash forward and we are taken back to the point which started the whole investigation – the moment when her firm is approached to attract women to use guns for protection. Sloane is against this and taking a job from Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) at rival lobbying firm, Peterson Wyatt, which is lobbying for universal background checks bill. Sloane takes all of her loyal employees with her, save her favourite Jane (Alison Pill), who openly refuses.
We also learn that Sloane is relentless in her career, having never established a long-term relationship, she hires male escorts like Forde (Jake Lacey) for “company.”
At Peterson Wyatt, Sloane puts team senior Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), at the head of media, after learning Esme was a closet victim of childhood trauma associating with a school shooting. Esme doesn’t want to be typified, but at a crucial moment, Sloane reveals her past, in hopes of more support towards the bill. As a consequence, Esme is attacked by an arms supporter,but the attacker is then shot dead by another civilian with concealed gun.
The stakes continue to raise higher on both sides, and an inquiry is launched against Elizabeth Sloane through the orchestration of her former boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) and frenemy Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg). Jane is instrumental in providing the evidence that Sloane was bribing a senator with a vacation to Indonesia to overturn the bill opposing reducing taxes on imported palm oil for Asian governments.
Additionally they have found and bring in Forde, whom one of the opposing lobbyists witnessed Sloane talking with in a hotel lobby previously, in an attempt to slander her. Forde admits he is an escort, but when asked if he’s met Elizabeth before, he responds that he has, but never as a client.
As the hearings wind up, it becomes clear to both Sloane and Schmidt that the issues are losing public interest and that the bill will soon go cold. In a surprise reveal, Sloane admits that she planned ahead of the current outcome, and placed a mole within her old firm. Jane was there all along and gave Dupont the info he needed to slander Sloane. Sloane also used illegal surveillance to record Dupont blackmailing congressman Sperling. Sloane was willing to accept jail time in order to positively influence the bill movement forward.
Pros: The characterization Jessica Chastain puts out for us is so compelling that we are able to forgive the somewhat formulaic ending. Most interesting of all, no real stance is taken in either adopting or fighting against gun control. Miss Sloane is incredibly unapologetic.
Cons: The supporting cast feels somewhat wasted, often purely serving the purpose of driving Sloane’s story (and big reveal) forward. The plot could easily become dated within years, and thusly, this piece lost in the annals of film.
Runtime: 2 hours 12 minutes
Points of Interest: Screenwriter Jonathan Perera was the only writer for the script. Jessica Chastain and John Lithgow worked together previously on Interstellar, but didn’t share any screen time then. Additionally Chastain and Mark Strong starred previously in Zero Dark Thirty.
Like so many other Jessica Chastain vehicles, this one demonstrates the raw talent and physical presence she is capable of bringing to the screen at any given moment. Lobbying is about foresight, Miss Sloane tells us at the open, and sure enough that is what we are there to witness. The subtle sense of sadness underpinning Sloanes power and position within her role are what make this a memorable performance, and despite the length of the endeavour, an engaging one.
I think the rest I enjoyed this film, despite some of of it’s shortcomings really, is that Sloane is a modern day pioneer. She pushes her agenda through both force and manipulation, at the consequence personal relationships. The fact that this is something which happens in life regardless of gender is common, but on film it is uncommon, and this performance could have been phoned in.
But it wasn’t. It’s an intelligent and unyielding view of the workaholic.