(2016) (Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A wily and ultra-prepared lobbyist leaves her prestigious D.C. firm to join a smaller one that's hired her to get a law -- that would extend gun purchase waiting periods -- passed through Congress.
- Elizabeth Sloane (JESSICA CHASTAIN) is a strategic lobbyist working at a powerful D.C. lobbying firm run by George Dupont (SAM WATERSTON). She's known for her meticulous preparation and always having a trump card to best the same that any of her opponents has played against her. Accordingly, guns right advocate Bob Sanford (CHUCK SHAMATA) has hired Dupont's firm in hopes of fixing the public relations issue between women and guns, what with recent deaths of children from shootings straining that.
But Elizabeth has decided to join a smaller, boutique lobbying firm run by Rodolfo Schmidt (MARK STRONG) that's trying to get a bill through Congress to add greater waiting periods for gun purchases, something that's of direct importance with one of his staffers, Esme Manucharian (GUGU MBATHA-RAW), a survivor of a past mass shooting incident. Elizabeth brings along all of her immediate team except for her right-hand lieutenant, Jane Molloy (ALISON PILL), who's opted to stay with George's firm and work alongside Elizabeth's direct nemesis, Pat Connors (MICHAEL STUHLBARG), to defeat her.
Being the workaholic that she is, Elizabeth occasionally needs an outlet for release and she occasionally pays for male escorts to provide such a service, with the latest such man being Forde (JAKE LACY). He wants to get to know her better, but as in the rest of her life, she's strictly business-oriented and once their encounters are done, she no longer desires any interaction with him. All of which may or may not surface when George manages to pressure Senator Ron Sperling (JOHN LITHGOW) to conduct a Senate hearing on Elizabeth and her past actions. From that point on, Elizabeth works to stay one step ahead of everyone who's trying to defeat her.
- OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
- Movies have long featured a wide array of character types in terms of the central protagonist. Some are kids, some are old, some (in fact, most) have been men while others have been women, and they come in any number of ethnicities, professions and so on.
A common thread, however, is that such characters -- no matter how powerful they might otherwise be -- have to face some sort of conflict that either levels the playing field or, far more likely, turns them into an underdog of some sort where they have to battle all sorts of obstacles, complications, and long odds to achieve whatever they might be after.
While most films feature a David vs. Goliath sort of underdog story, some go the Goliath vs. Goliath route. But even in those, smart filmmakers always make sure to give their strong characters some sort of weakness or vulnerability that will manage to engage viewers and have them rooting for success.
"Miss Sloane" is one such film and, in my humble opinion, ends up being one of the better offerings of 2016. Featuring an Oscar-worthy lead performance by Jessica Chastain, an equally worthy original screenplay by Jonathan Perera, taut direction by John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") and the hot-button issue of gun control, the film begins with Chastain's protagonist laying out how she operates as a highly compensated D.C. lobbyist. In short, she's always better prepared than her opponents, and she always has a trump card that will best whatever similar tactic is laid down against her.
But we then see that she's preparing for a Congressional hearing looking into allegations of lobbying wrongdoing on her part and realize that despite her quickly introduced strengths, she might be meeting her match in the form of the committee chair played by John Lithgow. The story then rewinds a few months to show how she got into such a potential mess.
With her reputation preceding her at a prestigious lobbying firm run by Sam Waterston's character, she's been selected to help the gun lobby (represented by the second amendment advocate played by Chuck Shamata) in its PR situation regarding moms across the country having problems with gun violence affecting kids.
Elizabeth has no problem speaking her mind about that or, for that matter, jumping ship to a smaller firm (run by Mark Strong) that's at direct odds with her now former employer. With all but one of her staff (Alison Pill) departing with her, and joining others (such as a past mass shooting survivor played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) already at the firm working on trying to get a bill that would extend waiting periods for gun purchases pushed through Congress, Sloane seems to be in her prime.
But her former firm (and especially her one-time colleague turned rival played by Michael Stuhlbarg) has set its sights on ruining her and her new cause, there's that hearing we know is around the corner, and she has a way of alienating even those on her side. At one point, after publicly outing her new coworker and that woman's past violent encounter, our protagonist points out that she'll essentially do anything to win no matter the cost as that's what she's been hired to do.
Perera's script does a far better and creative job in explaining her modus operandi than I just managed and that's part of what makes this such a crackerjack D.C. thriller. While some might complain that the scribe is trying to emulate the machine gun cadence of Aaron Sorkin (think of "The West Wing's" dialogue and the tempo in which it's delivered), I found all of it music to my aspiring screenwriter ears. The plotting is also terrific, and while I won't delve into details to avoid giving away any surprises, let's just say it's a blast watching and listening to the manipulative chess match that just keeps upping the ante.
The performances are strong across the board, but this is clearly Chastain's show. From the rapid dialogue to the determination and frailties occasionally revealed (a reliance on some sort of stimulant pill and the need for some release via repeated encounters with a male escort played by Jake Lacy), the actress nails the part of a woman who strives to win even if that means she loses in other areas of her life.
I enjoyed the film from start to finish, and if you like watching powerful if flawed characters who excel at what they do and manage to stay one step ahead of those opposing them, I imagine you'll have a similar reaction. One of the better films of 2016, "Miss Sloane" rates as an 7.5 out of 10.
Reviewed November 18, 2016 / Posted December 9, 2016
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