‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Miss Sloane is a pretty good but, unfortunately, not great political movie that has many exciting elements but founders because it feels more like a propaganda piece. Writer Jonathan Perera tries to recreate Aaron Sorkin with a wordy, clever, Washington-based political thriller. The problem is that the best of these dramas actually have two sides to the argument. Any opposition to the dogma Perera espouses is ruthlessly suppressed.
Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the top lobbyist at a major lobbying firm, predictably right-wing, with the boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) shown as genial until she crosses him. She is a force of nature there, ready to push any idea to the not-really-intrepid lawmakers, particularly when it comes to importing Indonesian palm oil.
But she rebels when asked to work for the gun lobby, not for the predictable reason of having been a victim in some way, but because she is against guns. Of course, the writer does have to make certain that we see at least one major character, Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who has survived gun violence and is still suffering.
Working for a more boutique firm (read small, left-wing and really friendly), she pushes hard against those “evil” people supporting gun rights. She comes on as strong as she had for the previous firm, but now, based on the script, she is on the side of the angels, although she casually uses bribery and other nasty tactics. Although there are political misstatements all the way through, the film keeps moving.
What keeps the movie working is a compelling performance by Chastain. She is driven and complex. She is really powerful, and comes across strongly. As an interesting change, director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) has her as a pill-popper and sexual user. When she has needs, she simply hires a gigolo (Jake Lacy). Of course, had Chastain been a male character, her actions would be condemned. Ironically, the gigolo has more morals than all the politicians and lobbyists.
Mbatha-Raw gives a strong supporting performance, and there’s a whole group of others who provide the strong support that Chastain needs for the story. Mark Strong and John Lithgow provide complex characterizations that promote the plot. Michael Stuhlbarg is good as the really nasty guy who goes after Sloane. It is not easy trying to keep up with the power of a performer like Chastain. I liked Alison Pill, who at first was Sloane’s assistant and key right hand, before betraying her.
In movies like this, film creators have to stick closely to real facts and also need to present both sides realistically. Tossing out a line that, “Texas regulates sex toys more than they do guns” sounds snappy, but is not true, although they are very easygoing.
Also, to emphasize the David versus Goliath element of the argument, the group sponsoring Sloane has millions of supporters who have raised (gasp) all of $15 million, which meant perhaps $5 a person. The anti-gun lobby in Washington spends many times that and has the support of the media. In terms of reality, the pro-gun lobby is far more grassroots than its opposition, a major reason that the pro-gun side generally seems to win.
You need both sides able to present their arguments if you want a film based on issues, although this is far more a character study of a driven political type. The volatility of the issues, however, draws away at least a little bit from the character study.
Chastain, in interviews, has talked about speaking to women lobbyists and copying a lot of their characteristics, and she has them down pat. That helped drive a complex, excellent performance. But the nature of the issue made this far too one-sided.
Yet it’s a great character role and a pretty good film. Hardly great, but it kept moving and provided a pleasant couple of hours. Unfortunately, it is coming out just at the time when top movies, the probable contenders for awards, are coming through, and you will probably prefer those.