Review: Patrick Compton - 7/10)
Miss Sloane is a “nasty woman”, a ruthless lobbyist in Washington DC who doesn’t mind what she does, or who she compromises, so long as she wins the battle.
The fact that the icily beautiful Jessica Chastain takes on this unsympathetic role in this legal thriller – directed by John Madden of Shakespeare in Love fame – and still manages to get us to root for her at the end is a remarkable achievement.
The movie opened in the United States just after Donald Trump shocked Hillary Clinton at the polls, and perhaps its reception would have been better if the latter had emerged as the victor. As it stands, Trump’s supporters may think that the nest of vipers that are exposed in the nation’s capital is symptomatic of the way the hated liberal establishment goes about its business.
The movie starts, tellingly as it turns out, with professional lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane delivering a monologue to camera in which she reveals her modus operandi. Lobbying is about foresight, she says, anticipating your opponent’s moves and devising countermeasures, making sure you play your trump card after they’ve played theirs.
After this chilly introduction and further examples of her icy operational sharpness and the hostility she arouses, Sloane is asked to represent the gun lobby and head a campaign to make gun possession more attractive for women. She surprises everyone by turning down the lucrative offer, saying that, in this –presumably isolated – case, she wishes to be guided by her moral conviction that gun control is necessary.
Consequently, she outrages her crusty boss (Sam Waterson) by leaving the firm and joining a scruffy boutique outfit dedicated to piloting an amendment to the gun laws that will require checks on those wishing to purchase weapons.
Brutal battle is now joined in which no quarter is asked and none given as this often tall tale moves to its shock conclusion.
Seldom can a movie be so dominated by a central performance. Without Chastain in the title role, Miss Sloane would simply be an increasingly unlikely thriller that leaves a nasty taste. Instead, the actress turns the film into more of a character study in which – despite her palpable limitations – she somehow retains a degree of audience sympathy.
It’s still a puzzle how she does it. Due to her overriding obsession with her work, Sloane has no private life at all, hiring male escorts to satisfy her physical needs, while she subsists on a diet of uppers and downers to get her through the day. Her most heinous act is to pressure a colleague (the movie’s most sympathetic character played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to go public on a traumatic earlier experience in order to help her campaign.
From a political perspective, Miss Sloane has been touted as a liberal attack on the National Rifle Association and the right of Americans to bear arms. That is hardly the case, and even if it were, its seeds have clearly fallen on exceptionally stony ground following the presidential election. It’s remarkable to consider that the amendment on gun control that Sloane fights for is hardly a radical measure. Instead, it’s a thoroughly conservative piece of legislation simply designed to introduce modest checks (such as criminal records) for those who want to buy a weapon.
Miss Sloane is showing at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway. - Patrick Compton