Miss Sloane: G4me0ver Full Review

Jessica Chastain shines in gripping, nuanced political dogfight feature.

Lobbying is about foresight. About anticipating your opponent’s moves and devising counter measures. The winner plots one step ahead of the opposition. And plays her trump card just after they play theirs.” – Elizabeth Sloane, Miss Sloane.

Contemporary politics has never been an entity more cinematic that during this golden age of TV. Rolling news coverage of world events and the media involvement in them are shaping the way we understand the ever-altering political sphere, bringing it closer to us and vice versa, and depicting it in a manner that lends itself to the kind of language and flare that we’ve come to expect from our entertainment media. So much so that corporate bodies like Fox news no longer judge themselves, ratings wise, by the standards of other US cable TV news outlets, they compare their stats to those of entertainment broadcasters. It’s style over substance all the way, and it’s totally unabashed.

But that in of itself is fascinating, from a TV standpoint, because it means that we’re unable to watch political dramas in the same way we’re used to. Re-runs of the original House of Cards or Yes Minister, even works of art like The West Wing seem a little dated now. The political media void has instead been filled with shows portraying the duplicitousness of Westminster and Washington, the frantically overworked and fast-paced, cutthroat environment of amorality, rhetoric and spin. The Thick Of It and it’s counterpart In The Loop, House of Cards, The Ides of March, all give us a glimpse behind the veil, confronting the duality of what we think our political system represents. In a world of alternative facts, the Frank Underwoods and Malcolm Tuckers of the world are now seen to be the hands pulling the strings of politics, with voters more or less an angry tide to be kept at bay or to guide, whichever suits. There’s a growing interest in the machinations of politics, and that falls to chief whips and lobbyists, media savvy players who oil the gears and guide politicians through the hoops they need them to jump, and of course, direct where the money goes.

Enter Miss Sloane, an utterly ruthless, goal driven and non-partisan lobbyist on the Hill, your archetypal vote swinging guru. Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, Zero Dark Thirty), one of Hollywood’s greatest and most under-rated actors of the moment, makes this character her own and then some. Pulling off the unflinching stoicism needed to bluff, manipulate and connive to be successful at her job, Chastain approaches Sloane with the same steely dedication and subtle prowess of the character herself. Sloane is a dirty playing lobbyist who becomes embroiled in fighting a moral battle against the pro-gun lobby of America. The aim; to secure the passing of the Heaton-Harris bill, legislation to ensure that all gun owners become subject to two week waiting periods and background checks, echoing the Obama administrations executive actions during his second term, now largely rolled back under president Trump.

Pitching herself against former bosses to fight a losing battle, ostensibly more for personal credit than for moral reasons, the role is a highly nuanced one, which refreshingly leaves a lot of questions unanswered about her personal life. It’s okay that it does though, because it keeps the film on point. In fact one of the main strengths of Sloane as a character at the point in time we find her, is that she’s non-stop, the narrative doesn’t need back story or fluff because it’s concentrated on, above all else, a sharp character study of the type of political animal behind passing contentious legislation.

With a strong supporting cast boasting John Lithgow, Alison Pill, Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Sam Waterston and Christine Baranski, Miss Sloane doesn’t need to make more of these characters than a lesser film would. There’s no vying for screen time, and although each interaction is a carefully crafted exchange, the film benefits from again not trying to cover too much ground with over-characterisation. The most interesting relationships in the film are the two that give the most to our understanding of Miss Sloane herself; her tentative friendship with Esme Manucharian (Gubu Mbatha-Raw) and the repressed conversations she has in a hotel suite with the escort Ford (Jake Lacy). Both Mbatha-Raw and Lacy bring a care and attention to their roles, and leave a lot to be said with glances and body language, all of which is packaged really well within the context of the rest of the movie.

There are points, admittedly, that could seem a little heavy on the political in-terms for some audiences, but this isn’t necessarily to the film’s detriment as much as it is indicative of the landscape of modern political drama. More telling in some respects is that Jonathan Perera is a first time writer for the big screen, which comes across as the film pulls the rug and plods along quite formulaically at points towards the final few scenes. That some kind of twist is approaching is pretty well choreographed, and it stops the film from falling into that instant subversive classic category, but you stick with it and the pay off is no less satisfying as a result. Perera was also the only script-writer for Miss Sloane, and there’s a very singular focus that comes as a result, which perhaps would have been lost with larger input. It could be said that perhaps you have to already be drawn to the subject matter to really get the pay offs and intricacies, but at no point is the film inaccessible, making sure to keep the moral argument of the gun-control battle going and filling up the more legislature heavy elements with style and thoroughness, with just enough relatability with the lead to make her interesting while keeping us wary of her. Miss Sloane is very much an anti-hero. There’s little nods to issues of race and ethnicity in Washington, of money over principles and of underhanded lobbying techniques such as illegal surveillance, all of which are handled in a matter of fact way, with clear research having been done to make sure the film doesn’t hit too many Hollywood tropes.

Further credit has to go to cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov, as Miss Sloane as is a very pretty film. Making good use of framing it’s scenes in an interesting and stark way gives the whole thing an almost artificial feel, and it works really well in context. With bold contrasts in Chastain’s outfits and moods captured effectively.

At a time when the behind-the-scenes scrutiny of politics has awakened in the public media sphere in more or less all forms (definitely watch the Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone), Miss Sloane is a welcome addition to the roster. Sharp, witty and with some interesting illuminations and dialogue, it’s most definitely not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. A one woman show, but not a one trick pony.

– Max Colbert