'Miss Sloane' Review

Photo Credit: EuropaCorp

Miss Sloane was destined to have extra relevance by this point, no matter how the presidential election turned out. As it stands now, it may come across as extra valuable comfort food to some viewers, as a now sadly ironic fantasy to others, or perhaps even both.

But for the non partisans, if there are still any, just being a fan of Jessica Chastain is the key to getting swept away here. In the long run, that more than any political affiliation goes the longest way to letting a lot of other things slide, if just barely.

Elizabeth Sloane is a lobbyist with a particularly cut throat reputation, mainly on cases involving tax code and the free market. Yet the gun lobby wants to use her skills, and her gender, to help their efforts in killing an upcoming gun control bill that would mandate universal background checks. When that backfires, Sloane instead goes to the opposition and takes on the even greater challenge of getting the bill passed, leaving behind and making enemies out of her old firm. Despite their obvious knowledge of her tactics and talents, she still blindsides them and uses/manipulates the media, her connections and even her new allies to advance the bill. Nonetheless, when her efforts come crashing down, she becomes an even bigger target than the bill itself.

It is no spoiler to say things end up with Sloane put on trial, since it is the framing device of the whole movie. But drawing suspense about the outcome is not the main objective, as director John Madden and especially writer Jonathan Perera focus on having their dialogue and the plot twists contained within ride on Chastain's coattails, as well as the other actors in her orbit. There are certainly worse strategies, although Madden and Perera's side of the equation still needs more work beyond that.

Perera's script and dialogue has been constantly compared to Aaron Sorkin and his TV shows, if not the non-Sorkin show Scandal. But the comparison that's most fitting is to Sorkin's The Newsroom, yet that may be an ominous sign to those who rank it low on his resume. In addition to having Newsroom veterans Alison Pill and Sam Waterston in supporting roles, a main character from an often loathed profession who normally leans conservative turns out to be the right one to advance liberal pet causes, much like in The Newsroom.

The pro-gun side loves to use the "good guy with a gun" strawman narrative to champion their cause, which is even done in Miss Sloane as well. In this case, the great liberal champion of Miss Sloane is the "good conservative" who is powered by reason instead of ideology, who can run off hundreds of words a minute, who can use the hardcore tactics that liberals stereotypically can't, and is a woman to boot. It is all sure to run the gamut in being comforting, ironic, empowering, bitterly ironic and depressing to one viewer or another.

There is certainly much to be said about the gun lobby’s idea to make gun rights a women’s issue, Sloane’s priceless initial reaction, and how she then takes that idea to get women on the other side. Given that Miss Sloane was filmed months ago, it is probably a happy accident that she uses the term “nasty” to describe their newfound financial backing.

The movie also takes a few welcome pot shots at the idea/stereotype that Sloane would automatically need a personal connection to the gun issue to care about it this much. But another character already fits that description in Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Esme, although she goes out of her way not to use it. While there’s an obvious push and pull between her and Sloane over that and much more, Chastain and Mbatha-Raw turn it into some of the film’s more impactful moments.

Nonetheless, while Miss Sloane takes a very clear side on the gun debate, the real goal of the film isn’t to be a political statement. The issues mean less than the morally grey tactics, mind games and long cons used to advance them, making the movie more like a cat-and-mouse game than anything else.

Given that Sloane herself stresses the importance of anticipating an opponent's moves right off the bat, viewers will surely do the same with the film itself. That might put them well ahead of a few plot twists, but unfortunately for the movie, it also makes it easier to see how they don’t all hold up.

There are jolts to be had when Sloane’s big gambles and plans pay off, and some undeniable satisfaction in seeing her outwit, outplay and outmatch the opposition. Given the concept of a high powered woman taking on and taking down the gun industry, there’s no way for certain viewers not to be overjoyed at such a rarity on the big screen, let alone in life. Of course, there’s no mistaking Sloane for a paragon of virtue and womanhood on a few levels, although whether they are just borrowing those flaws from other male and female antiheroes is a cause for debate.

Avoiding a few, if not all, of the more obvious flaws, stereotypical drawbacks and clichés of such female antiheroes does get Miss Sloane the movie and the character a long way. Yet when it comes time for the big finale, it winds up exposing more holes and underdeveloped aspects of the character than anything else.

While that might have been by design to help make the final twists more shocking, it comes at the expense of making Sloane’s final actions and decisions ring entirely true, given everything shown and not shown about her beforehand. Between that, a subplot about a male escort which probably could have been taken out with no real loss, and a second act twist with its own unanswered questions and rather glaring loose ends, Miss Sloane may suffer the more one thinks about it afterwards.

Leaving aside the plot holes, Madden really relies on Perera’s dialogue and snappy exchanges to paper them over, and on Chastain and the cast to sell it. However, they sell it a lot easier than Perera does, as he doesn’t quite have Sorkin’s gift of gab and knack for unforgettable lines. Very few people do, and Sorkin is just as hit or miss as anyone, as The Newsroom certainly reinforced. Yet the hits for Perera don’t quite hit as high as Sorkin's can, as much as he tries.

Madden can’t really get out of the way at a few points either, as two of Sloane’s most impassioned speeches are all but drowned out by Max Richter’s far too intrusive score. Given how Chastain delivers them, it is especially unnecessary, since they would have been far better off letting her take over without any added manipulations and interference. For that matter, that is the lasting impression of the movie as a whole.

Watching Chastain turn a phrase, show the gears turning in her head, show the occasional crack in the armor and bring the hammer down is far more enjoyable than anything anyone else can add to it. Listening to her talk circles around her allies and enemies proves to make a greater impact on the movie than some of the actual words she speaks as well. It is debatable whether Miss Sloane would have more or less of an impact with anyone else, depending on the actress, but the movie ultimately needs this one for all she’s worth, which happens to be considerable.

Whatever side people are on regarding the various political issues in Miss Sloane, the deciding issue is really Chastain above all else. Those who already adore her and what her casting and character represents may be more inclined to let other issues around them slide, or at least not let them be complete deal breakers.

But while Miss Sloane really plays to the base of its most likely supporters in this aspect, that alone isn’t completely enough for a total victory. It helps get the movie to a slight majority rule, yet if not for other factors and some of the less effective tactics and choices of Chastain’s main support system, it would have been a far more decisive victory instead of a mere split decision.

The deciding votes for and against Miss Sloane can be cast by general audiences when it goes wide on Dec. 9.