If you can imagine a world in which a country meets the most consequential moment in its recent history by electing a bloviating tabloid celebrity as its president, then you can imagine a world in which a female lobbyist can sufficiently game the system in any way she wishes, by means both gracefully subtle and explicitly overt, in order to finagle a trailblazing victory for progress. These worlds are not disparate – they seem equally far-fetched, and therefore equally legitimate. And because the former has come to pass, the latter is that much more important for our social consciousness going forward.
That’s Miss Sloane – a spitfire rat-tat-tat game of intellectual thrones that could be dismissed as fantasy, but ironically, only because its characters speak truth so vociferously and loquaciously. “No one could be this magnificently intelligent,” one might think. But in Trump’s America, you better be damn well glad someone is – someone who can speak truth to power, or better still, smack power right in the mouth. Someone who can slap back against the powers-that-be with equal viciousness. And in light of the demonstrable corruption with which most power is assumed, if the fight against said power uses similarly questionable tactics, it’s almost more satisfying….those powers-that-be can choke on it.
I speak casually about “corruption” and “questionable tactics,” probably an inevitable result of being on the receiving end of a jagged, bloody backstab by an indirect (or direct) collusion between Russian hackers, Wikileaks operatives, and a would-be “presidential campaign.” In contrast, the reality of Miss Sloane’s narrative is not so casual, but rather an incisive exploration of moral quandaries in a system so complex it’s impossible not to find, and exploit, a loophole. In an enterprise where the “rules of the game” include a bunch of hazy unspoken norms and backdoor workarounds, what separates duplicity from artfulness?
Elizabeth Sloane lives right on the dividing line, though her terse nastiness might lead one to believe she’s the villain in her own story. Jessica Chastain plays Sloane as the smartest person in any room ever, severe in demeanor because she’s aware no one is her equal. She’s also a woman in a political realm, meaning that in order to hold sway, she must either be fully compliant or completely oppositional. In choosing the latter, she establishes her position as one to be reckoned with, even in a predominantly male power struggle. But she also puts a target on her back. Nothing threatens the patriarchy like a superior female – and if you need real-world proof, I would direct you to a months-long witch hunt regarding a certain superior woman’s emails. Sloane prides herself on leaving no stone unturned, no ends loose. And yet, as the film begins, she is preparing to stand trial before the Senate Ethics Committee.
For all its exploration of ethics, however, you should know that the one way to get targeted by a governing body is to push an agenda they are trying to suppress. Such is the case in here, as high-powered lobbyist Sloane leaves behind her cushy power-broking firm to lead an upstart activist group in its attempt to push increased background checks for gun purchases. So this Nasty Woman (how endlessly clever of the film’s marketing to turn the phrase into a promotional tag) takes up quite a noble cause, and a regardless of whatever subterranean purposes she conjures for doing so, nothing draws more ire than the ongoing debate over Second Amendment rights.
The film is an unraveling of sorts, piecing together how we got here, though the narrative does not unfold in any traditional sense. Like its title character, the movie keeps the audience on a Need-To-Know basis, revealing its secrets gradually, as necessary, for maximum impact. And yet we never feel played, for even as the Master Plan comes together behind the scenes (or sometimes right before our very eyes), we obtain key insights all along the way – about foisting causes as political products, about the careful promotion of a public narrative as subterfuge, and about “Miss Sloane” herself, who is long overdue for some soul-searching, but will only conduct it, like everything else, on her terms.
Miss Sloane is directed by John Madden, whose elegance isn’t an intrusion, and written by Jonathan Perera, who in his first ever screenplay strikes Sorkinian notes in his swift, layered, whip-smart dialogue. Indeed, the story exists in that slightly-elevated world where enormous intelligence, fierce political intrigue, and activist outrage collide. The dividing lines are clearly drawn between good and evil, yet in the center of the picture is Miss Sloane herself, playing the strings on both sides while attempting to reconcile her con game with her conscience. And in a post-Trump universe, where electoral politics has been rendered as a grandly evil punchline, democracy hangs in the balance, and human rights will inevitably stand trial, a great many people will be wrestling with notions of what’s right, what’s wrong, what is necessary versus what’s out of bounds, as they take a stand against impending tyranny.
Put plainly, Miss Sloane is the film we need right now.