Miss Sloane asserts itself with awards season bravado, but as aggressive political takedowns give way to crackerjack-box conflict resolution (never know what’s inside), an almost B-movie vibe gains control. I’m not sure if EuropaCorp knew what they had here besides an absolutely on-fire performance by an un-extinguishable Jessica Chastain.
Director John Madden and writer Jonathan Perera set their sights on corrupt governmental practices, but go the route of bug-tapping bugs (not a typo) and emotional gigolos where other films have remained embroiled in D.C. espionage. Chastain never wavers in her steely, iron-fist poise, yet there’s no denying the utter ridiculousness that goes down in the name of kinda wrong do-gooding. I still don’t know what kind of tone Miss Sloane is aiming for – all I know is Chastain knocks her titular role into outer-f*#king-space.
Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is a pill-popping lobbyist who can crush her opponents with a single phone call. Her current employers show a vested interest in pro-gun senators, but Sloane refuses to sacrifice personal integrity. This doesn’t sit well with her boss, George Dupont (Sam Waterston), and word soon spreads that she flat-out opposed the gun lobby contingency.
That’s when a boutique Washington agency offers her the chance to fight against those same lobbyists her current behemoth company wants to back, with an offer coming directly from owner Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong). Sloane doesn’t hesitate, and finds herself fighting against the same company she called home for so many years. Will her champion spirit help the little guy defy the odds, or will her ambition only lead to catastrophic defeat?
Chastain is the nuclear reactor powering all that is Miss Sloane. From her very first opening statement, the actress’ command is that of a master manipulating naive little puppies. Sloane’s presence doubles in spirit and tenacity, unstoppable once her synapses begin firing. When Sloane argues, her dominant confidence and razor-sharp eloquence are wittier than a Gilmore Girls conversation and ten times more intellectually stimulated. When faced with adversity, her cold calculations contort the human spirit into something monstrous and tactical. When doing ANYTHING, she’s the most intriguing person in the room, and never lets you forget it. Despite the collective quality of Miss Sloane, Chastain’s name deserves to be in every awards season debate from now until February – an opinion was formulated during just her first scene.
Unfortunately, Chastain is leagues ahead the best thing about Miss Sloane – and I hope that doesn’t distract from her superhero lobbying powers.
Perera’s story jumps from gun policy legislature votes to an unnecessary lovemaking arc featuring Jake Lacey’s companion “Forde” like it’s nothing, especially considering how his character adds no additional level of depth or plot advancement (save your “he humanizes her!” angles). Sloane herself – while magnificent – displays motivations that ghost around Capitol Hill’s moral boundaries with ridiculous Hollywood access, almost as if she’s some kind of super spy with hands in every cookie jar in DC. Her unstoppable nature becomes overblown at times, even if we’re to take these grand admissions of paid actors crashing congress dinners as an honest layer being peeled back on American politics. Miss Sloane is fireworks-level showy, aggressive and angry – as it should be – but lessens its own message by representing a tonal jambalaya made of any ingredient found in Madden’s proverbial kitchen.
To be fair, Chastain isn’t the only actor worth mentioning. She’s surrounded by a rather stacked supporting cast, from Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s reluctant friendship to Alison Pill’s mentee-in-training. Sloane is at her best when engaged in idealistic battle, and Michael Stuhlbarg’s rival lobbyist pushes her buttons oh so delicately when engaging in these long-winded battles of influence.
Elsewhere, John Lithgow shows up only to be extorted and steamrolled, Mark Strong mutters about while dealing with his new hire’s professional obsessing and a handful of passionate justice-fighters get bossed around by Chastain’s fearless leader like pawns – because that’s what they are. Everyone is a pawn in Sloane’s world, and Madden’s focus doesn’t let that notion ever dissipate.
As a vessel for trumpeting Jessica Chastain’s talents, Miss Sloane is a glorious knock-out. As a political shake-up film with something to say, its message is screamed from a mountaintop by some homeless lunatic. Sometimes this can be endearing (congress members being followed by giant inflatable rats, an inherent aggravation that society deserves to share), while at other times baffling (seriously, what gives with the gigolo) – but it doesn’t really matter. Whoever is talking about this movie will be doing so for one reason, and it’s an obvious one.
Rarely is a performance so strong that it’s able to carry an entire production, but – thankfully for John Madden – Chastain wills Miss Sloane into relevance through nothing but sophistication, spunk and champion grit. Take a bow, m’lady. It’s well earned.
Jessica Chastain is the heart, body and soul of Miss Sloane, boasting the performance power of a nuclear reactor.