AFI Fest 2016: Miss Sloane (Movie Review)

miss sloane thumbMiss Sloane is the kind of film that can be championed, but called into question at the same time. On the whole, the film is a well-acted political drama that leans heavy on some pulp qualities. The film does away with overt statements arguing for specific causes, with the exception of calling out accountability and making a case for women in positions of power, who can be just as cold and calculating as men. That is still the kind of film that is not seen all that much and Miss Sloane does what it can to make its case, while providing some entertaining twists and turns along the way. I only wish the film was as smart as it thinks it is.


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Jessica Chastain stars as Elizabeth Sloane, an ice cold lobbyist who has recently left her firm to work for a new one intent on pushing senators to vote in favor of a gun control bill. On her side, Sloane works for Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) and has a team under her that includes Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Against her, Sloane is up against former co-workers Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), George Dupont (Sam Waterston) and Jane Molloy (Alison Pill). The film examines the process of lobbyists under a terrific amount of pressure and the boundary-breaking tactics Sloane uses to win.

Walking into Miss Sloane, I was expecting something more along the lines of the brilliant Michael Clayton, which allowed George Clooney to be the guy behind the scenes who could use his intelligence to toe the line (and adjust it at times), while dealing with his own personal drama. However, Miss Sloane actually has more in line with something like Runaway Jury or any number of John Grisham legal thrillers that have their share of camp value. That’s not an attack on Grisham or this film, but an observation that stems from realizing how little depth the film seems to have.

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Make no mistake, Sloane is a strong character and worthy of examination. She wields her power in a way that gives her a level of glee she rarely acknowledges openly, in addition to having all sorts of problems that stem from her obsession to defeat anyone who is against her. Chastain is terrific as usual and happily plays up the opportunity to be at the center of chaos that her own character is the mastermind of.

There is also strong work from the other performers to be seen. Notable work comes from Mbatha-Raw as the good-hearted counterpoint to how Sloane behaves in the same position. Strong is also quite good as the exasperated employer who is barely able to handle the lengths Sloane goes to in her efforts. A similar case can be made for Stuhlbarg on the enemy side as well.

Again though, even as the two sides presented find ways to send a message concerning gun control, the film does not set out to really dig into anything in revelatory ways nor does it do much with the supporting characters, beyond setting them up as specific types or as sounding boards for others. First-time writer Jonathan Perera developed this screenplay and finds effective ways to build a sense of rhythm over the course of the film to allow for a sense of fun seen in all the talking, monologues and sniping between characters. However, there is a lack of choice to find something more to take grasp of; presumably hoping the nature of seeing the women in power will do the heavy lifting for a script that lacks more punch.

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This is most evident in the nature of the film’s setup. Miss Sloane wants you to know that it has tricks up its sleeves and will be sure to play a big one on the audience, before the film reaches its conclusion. Unfortunately, there is a big reveal that may work for a sensational TV drama, but feels far too overdone for this film. It is not necessarily out of line with what we have seen, but the choice feels like the film playing one too many hands to push it fully into camp territory. Add to that a sense of being in on what the film considers to be intelligence, only to find that under closer examination, Sloane’s lobbyist tactics and carefulness ends up looking ridiculous.

It may seem like a lot of put downs on the kind of film that is not made too often, but it stems from how I felt treated as an audience member. Perhaps it has something to do with how well I could dig into the pulpiness of the film’s tone and plotting, but being overly audacious only goes so far, when the film rests so much on a single character’s shoulders. That is fittingly just the kind of challenge Sloane would want to tackle, but she can only do so much when projected on a screen. For my part, I’m happy to acknowledge the clear talent here in both acting and direction (Oscar winner John Madden certainly does his best to make this talky legal thriller feel zippy). Still, Miss Sloane can only surprise so much to get ahead.

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