There’s nothing more unstable than the political eggshell that is gun control, and Miss Sloane knows it. Bringing a leading character just as unstable to the fight, the film pulls punches on both sides of the argument and occasionally leaves its audience reeling. The eponymous Elizabeth Sloane leads the pro-gun-control campaign, but repeatedly reminds her peers and the audience that her opinion on the matter is irrelevant to her desire to win. There’s something else beneath the surface driving this woman to stop at nothing for success.
Jessica Chastain teams up for the second time with English director John Madden, having previously collaborated on 2010’s under-the-radar political thriller The Debt. Miss Sloane is just as cutthroat, but this time the bloodshed happens at the boardroom round table. Lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane makes the most risky move of her merciless career by cutting herself loose from her allies and switching sides to fight a losing battle against the Gun Lobby. But if anyone can win such a campaign, it’s Miss Sloane.
Chastain leads an all-star supporting cast, who flood the film with a depth that somehow makes this world of ungodly political swordplay believable. Mark Strong’s Rodolfo Schmidt and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Esme Manucharian head up Sloane’s pro-gun-control lobbying team. They’re up against opposing party leader Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose best player is Sloane’s ex-right-hand-woman Jane Molloy, played by Alison Pill. John Lithgow rounds it out as Congressman Ron M. Sperling, who comes into the mix after Sloane’s old colleagues try to catch her out for bribery and corruption.
The dialogue is fast-paced and unforgiving, a pseudo-Aaron-Sorkin-esque affair that demands the utmost attention and threatens to leave the audience behind in the initial minutes. Chastain, an alumnus of Juilliard and no stranger to Shakespeare, handles the wordplay effortlessly, eventually allowing us to sit back and watch the dynamics unfold.
The film’s strongest element is Elizabeth Sloane’s deeply flawed and emotionally charged personality. She is as ruthless as Lady Macbeth, if I can be so bold as to make two Shakespeare references in as many paragraphs. Sloane is not a likable character, but in the end that’s what we like about her. She is based more on a male archetype than a typical female one: the best and most famous in her field, a natural-born leader, and hiding a floundering personal life of sex and drug addiction behind a stream of career wins. She’s incapable of meaningful relationships with anyone, but makes up for it with a quick wit and a thirst for challenge that either brings people flocking or steers them far clear. Both reactions fuel her ego and cause her to cross the line in ways even she can’t predict.
“I never know where the line is.” — Elizabeth Sloane
The film falls short in the development of Sloane’s backstory. We want to know who she is, or was, behind the mask of her career. Although several scenes allow us to read between the lines for an overall idea of her struggle, we have to inject our own theories to fill it out and make her a character truly worth investing in.
Miss Sloane is a double-edged sword of a film that deals blows both ways. It tries hard and kind of fails to be a political film about something more than politics. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Sloane is a fascinating character and Jessica Chastain’s performance — as well as the fantastic supporting cast — makes it well worth a watch. This film is nowhere near perfect, but its highlight is its imperfection: a selfish woman who doesn’t give a fuck. Cinema needs more women like her.
Miss Sloane is out now in Australian theaters and arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD for American audiences March 21st.