Editor’s Note: Miss Sloane opens in wide theatrical release today, December 9, 2016.
What a difference a year makes. What a difference a month makes. If Miss Sloane, a slightly above average political thriller fueled by a fiercely committed performance from Jessica Chastain, had arrived in multiplexes last year or even last month (pre- not post-presidential election), it would have seemed like a smart, timely, and above all, relevant thriller, a thriller centered on a contentious, if not entirely irresolvable, political issue: universal background checks for firearm sales. After the recent presidential election, however, the prospect of federal legislation involving universal background checks seems unlikely, if not impossible, for the foreseeable future (i.e., the next four years). Unfortunately, that’s the risk any politically charged, issue-oriented drama, melodrama, or thriller faces: Historical events can turn subjects like universal background checks or other gun safety measures irrelevant moments after a presidential election irrevocably tilts toward a particular candidate.
Miss Sloane features a top-to-bottom stellar cast led by Chastain, giving a fully committed, award-worthy performance in a non-award worthy film.
Miss Sloane’s faults, however, lie deeper than an ill-timed or misjudged release date. They begin and end with the title character, Madeline Elizabeth Sloane, an ambitious, driven Washington, D.C. lobbyist who’s made a successful career for herself representing the interests, moral, ethical, and more often, otherwise, for multinational corporations, helping to shape or forestall legislation as needed to benefit her firm’s clients. From the outside in, she’s a stereotypical career woman, circa 1996 (unfortunately minus the shoulder pads). Sloane has chosen her career over her personal life. She’s not married, she’s not dating, and she doesn’t have any friends or even acquaintances outside of her profession or her professional contacts. She works non-stop, obsessively, taking stimulants to keep her constantly awake and alert. She’s willing to sacrifice anything and anyone, including her co-workers and staff, for whatever goal she’s decided to pursue. She always wins too. To round off Sloane’s remarkably shallow life choices, she hires male escorts for unencumbered companionship. In short, she’s a walking, talking caricature, not a character, two dimensional or otherwise.
If Miss Sloane had arrived in multiplexes last year or even last month, it would have seemed like a smart, timely, and above all, relevant thriller, a thriller centered on a contentious, if not entirely irresolvable, political issue: universal background checks for firearm sales.
With little explanation, Miss Sloane turns on the title character abandoning her well-paying lobbyist gig with a for-profit lobbying firm for a boutique firm headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong). All it takes is a meeting with a powerful, red-state senator who wants Sloane to help him bring women over to the NRA’s side of the ledger. In the now painfully unrealistic world of Miss Sloane, federal legislation for universal background checks, strongly supported by public opinion, regardless of the political divide, but opposed by the deep-pocketed representative of firearms manufacturers (i.e., the National Riflemen’s Association [NRA]), will receive an up-or-down vote in the U.S. Senate in just a few weeks. Sloane not only takes the gig, she brings most of her team with her. At the new firm, however, she quickly allies herself with resident gun safety expert Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), but faces the archetypal uphill battle faced by fictional underdogs everywhere, both against her former employer and the corporate interests they represent, but the generic personal demons that haunt underwritten, flawed characters in mainstream films.
For the better part of an hour, though, Miss Sloane hums along at a relatively efficient, undemanding pace thanks in part to John Madden’s (Shakespeare in Love) generally competent direction, first-time writer Jonathan Perera’s incident-heavy screenplay, and a top-to-bottom stellar cast led by Chastain, giving a fully committed, award-worthy performance in a non-award worthy film. Madden and Perera eventually try to play both sides against the middle on the gun safety issue, opting for a late-film plot development that’s equal parts ludicrous and nonsensical, not to mention an unnecessary, disingenuous sop for Second Amendment absolutists, i.e., reactionary opponents of common sense gun safety measures. It also feels cynically cheap and manipulative (because it is). Chastain, not to mention the uniformly strong supporting cast (but we’ll mention them anyway), ultimately deserves better. Then again, moviegoers do too.
Miss Sloane, a political thriller from director John Madden, feels cynically cheap and manipulative, and Jessica Chastain and the uniformly strong supporting cast -- and moviegoers -- deserve better.