Genre: Political Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.
Release Date: December 9th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Madden Actors: Jessica Chastain, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Strong, Jake Lacy, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston, Alexandra Castillo, Meghann Fahy
s Madeline Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) asserts, a lobbyist must have foresight in order to generate effective countermeasures; one must be able to predict the maneuverings of opponents to create the element of surprise, and to never be surprised in turn. And she should know; she’s one of the foremost lobbyists in Washington D.C. The darker truth, however, is that her profession is little more than a glorified briber – someone who uses influence and money to sway the decisions of businesses and politicians, all for some other business or politician.
It’s a sinister, backstabbing, friendless world, but Sloane excels in the arena of unethical persuasion and financial corruption. It’s a broken system, but she regularly uses this to her advantage. When she’s brought before the U.S. Senate for a hearing on professional misconduct, the price becomes higher; for just about everything asked in the limelight of photographers and legislators, she must plead the 5th, as instructed by her lawyer, Daniel Posner (David Wilson Barnes).
Three months prior, she worked for one of the top firms in the city: Cole, Kravitz & Waterman LLP. Although she’s committed to helping the Indonesian government avoid a crippling palm oil tax (she specializes in taxation and governmental interference in free enterprise), top boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) wants her to steer her attention toward the gun lobby – and it’s head honcho Bill Sanford (Chuck Shamata) – for which she can devise a plan to increase female support. She’s to craft a new organization that empowers women through gun ownership. If she doesn’t secure the lobby and develop this disagreeable concept, she’ll be fired. And so she leaves the company to work for the opposition, the Brady Campaign under Peterson Wyatt, a firm helmed by Mr. Schmidt (Mark Strong) and currently struggling to pass a bill that will require universal background checks on all firearm sales.
“They want you behind bars.” Sloane leaves security, prestige, and a winning track record to tackle a cause that she’s not particularly passionate about. But in doing so, she’s immediately an underdog, fighting against vaster corruption and greater funding than Peterson Wyatt can possibly confront (the gun lobby spends 38 times as much as they do). Initially, their strategy is merely to prepare good arguments for future bills so that one day, perhaps years from now, their 2nd Amendment restrictions can come to fruition. Winning isn’t even a realistic goal.
And though the topic of gun control is divisive, “Miss Sloane” doesn’t actually have any interest in taking a hard stance. This isn’t a political or propagandistic movie; it’s simply a movie about political wheeling and dealing. It’s fast, busy, wordy, cynical, biting, and extremely intelligent. The caustic nature of workarounds for lawbreaking, flouted ethics for monetary gains, uncomfortably palpable litigiousness, exposés on the inner workings of complex deceptive practices, or blackmail for continued time in office are infuriating, eye-opening, and chilling topics; but so too are Sloane’s mesmerizing tradecraft and unshakeable convictions. Politics is dirty, but Sloane knows what she’s doing. “You can’t possibly win this!”
Chastain is a force to be reckoned with, embodying a woman who isn’t “nasty,” as the marketing campaign suggests, but instead formidable, powerful, motivational, and striking. She’s one of the strongest of all female characters of late and a champion of confidence and realism; in her own way, she’s also the James Bond of lobbyists. Some may see her as cold and inhuman, but she’s entirely engrossing, even when she’s crossing – perhaps repeatedly – the lines of respect and decency. She’s surrounded by an exceptional cast as well: Alison Pill as a rival, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a fellow advocate, Michael Stuhlbarg as a former associate, and Jake Lacy as a male escort. It’s all a Capitol Hill chess game, wherein every piece plays by perpetually shifting rules and sees every other piece as a potential enemy; but it’s also far more fun than it ought to be. “Miss Sloane” is one of the very best films of the year.
– Mike Massie