Miss Sloane is the Jessica Chastain show, and that works to the film’s advantage. By going all in on it’s leading lady and her terrific, steely performance, we’re distracted from a second rate script that alternates between being confused and trying too hard to be clever.
Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is not a hard woman to figure out. The first scene of the film has her preaching directly to the viewer about how you must always know your enemy’s attack, and be prepared to counter. She’s obsessed with three things: power, policy and pills (the latter which assumedly combats her insomnia).
She’s approached by her boss (Sam Waterson) to work for a pro-gun lobby to defeat a bill which would institute universal background checks. The opposition is outspent by a 38 to 1 margin, and all Sloane has to do is advocate to women that guns can help keep them safe. It sounds like a lay-up of a case, until she refuses on the ground of conscience (“My position was made up sometime between Columbine and Charleston” she says, a line that will make you deeply sad when thought about). Her pro-gun control views even make her leave with all of her staff, save for her assistant (Alison Pill).
This all sounds like an easy, plausible set-up, but you see dear reader, now is time to surprise you in a way Sloane would be proud; we never hear her political beliefs on this issue before she makes this stand, so it rings hollow. Sloane frequently spends the film talking about how she’s interested in “winning” and how that sets her apart from bleeding heart liberals, yet turning down more money (she worked in one of the best firms in DC) for an easy campaign counts as a bleeding heart thing to do. She explains to her boss that background checks are not infringement on constitutional rights, and she’s correct, but that doesn’t forgive first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera for screwing up one of the more important scenes in the film.
This script is amateurish. Perera’s script clearly bows to the shrine of Aaron Sorkin, with its walking down hallways during exposition and personal conflicts masquerading as policy discussions. Characters frequently cut each other off or go on tangents about random subjects (Sloane goes on a thirty second rant about cookies and cakes, making an awkward analogy to the tax code). But Perera can never raise any of the dialogue above imitating the in-the-know chatter of Sorkin classics like the The Social Network.
Then there’s the clumsy attempt to bring in a love interest via a prostitute (Jake Lacy). It’s not compelling because the short scenes they have together establish a) that Sloane is an unpleasant person to be around and b) their relationship ends in the bedroom. Yet somehow the man ends up falling for her, then lies that they had a sexual relationship to Congress. Wasn’t this supposed to be a movie about gun control?
It mostly is, and it’s quite frankly much more compelling when Miss Sloane sticks to the politics, as untrue as that might sound coming off of the most excruciating election in recent memory. Watching a senator get swayed by a paid actor portraying a concerned citizen may make you hate the way our government works, but it makes for damn entertaining cinema.
That’s just one of many Sloane’s tricks. When a senator backs off his support for gun control, she has “activists” follow him around, in addition to a truck with a giant inflatable rat on top of it. It’s ridiculous, but so is our current political system. She’s even willing to go hopelessly low and out a member of her staff (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on national television to put a face on the gun control movement. All of this entertainment is driven by Chastain, who’s fiery performance recalls Maureen O’Hara if that classic actress had been given a script where she got to give little monologues every thirty seconds.
Chastain will probably get an Oscar nomination for this, and it will be well-deserved in a quiet awards season. Amidst some really sloppy writing (seriously, I counted two to three times I laughed at the dialogue), she remains the most compelling reason to watch, a real feat considering how unlikable her character is in this.
Then there’s the incomprehensible. Sloane apparently has a surveillance team which is able to record people with a robot-controlled cockroach that has a bug (hah) in it. Her new boss (Mark Strong) objects to this, so it’s dropped until a twist ending that strains credibility.
You see, all this political warfare is a flashback, and we’re occasionally dropped into the present, where Sloane is being investigated by the U.S. Senate for giving gifts to lawmakers and illegal surveillance. We’re told all along that she’s a ruthless woman with no life but politics, and we see it through out the 132 minute run-time.
Here’s another surprise then reader: Miss Sloane at this point stops being “the gun control movie” and then turns into a broader statement of dissatisfaction with US politics as a whole. Except now the ultimate insider is willing to go to jail to expose a corrupt system.
That note rings false, and really the whole last third of the movie does. It’d be easier to pigeonhole, but maybe Miss Sloane should’ve just focused on being the “gun control movie” rather than some grand statement on politics as a whole. The tagline is “Make Sure You Surprise Them”; I’d counter that you don’t swerve into an on-coming truck just to keep from going down the obvious road.
Published by Jagger Czajka