Miss Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a feared DC lobbyist who angers her boss by turning down a job for a pro-gun group. She quits and moves to a firm which is backing a proposed law to impose regulations on firearms. But which side will win?
Smart, hard-nosed and blunt to the point of rudeness, Elizabeth Sloane is the kind of boss who has her underlings simultaneously cowering in fear while still craving her favour. If this film was made a decade ago, you could imagine her being played by Nicole Kidman (or, going further back, Linda Fiorentino) but in today’s market, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Jessica Chastain. She inhabits every inch of this steely, powerful character who strides into boardrooms and instantly commands the attention of everyone present — rivals, employees, the audience.
Chastain gives it everything she’s got.
Chastain’s performance is absolutely crucial to the success of this film, and she gives it everything she’s got — amping up the kind of focused, driven intensity we saw in Zero Dark Thirty, while still bringing a glimpse of the vulnerability she displayed in Interstellar. A driven, busy woman, she keeps her colleagues at arm’s length, doesn’t appear to have any other friends and hires a male escort when she wants sex. It’s this relationship that reveals most about who Sloane is — she’s perturbed when, instead of getting her usual guy, another man, Forde (Jake Lacy), turns up instead. Reticent initially, she begins to see him more regularly and it’s then we glimpse her true self.
But, as is to be expected in films like this, the chief pleasure of Miss Sloane is watching her let rip at her colleagues and adversaries. However, there is a flip side — the most painful moments are when she does the same to her subordinates, something which crosses the line into emotional abuse. Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings warmth and heart as Esme, one of the favoured ones, but you sense that her place in the pecking order is precarious. She’s not the only one: Sloane herself is putting her career on the line for the cause of gun control, although for some time it’s hard to tell whether it’s because she believes in it, or because she wants to prove she can win this particular battle.
Elsewhere, the film is dialogue-driven to an entertaining but almost exhausting degree: Aaron Sorkin is an apparent influence for debut screenwriter Jonathan Perera, a Brit who was working as a teacher in South Korea when his script got Hollywood attention. Inevitably, it’s not as razor-sharp as Sorkin’s work, but it’s still a slick debut from a writer who claims his heroine was partly inspired by his mother (the good bits, anyway). Able supporting performances come from Mark Strong as Sloane’s new boss Rodolfo Schmidt, and Alison Pill as her one-time right-hand woman Jane Molloy, although smaller characters tend to lean towards the simplistic.
It’s a far cry from director John Madden’s usual cosiness, seen in the likes of Shakespeare In Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and by the time the ending comes along, some audiences may have lost patience. It’s the kind of film that leaves questions in its wake in terms of plot detail, character background and even practicalities — where does she find the time to do her hair and make-up so professionally? If she’s going for twice-daily blow-drys like Anna Wintour, we don’t see it. But it’s still an enjoyable two-plus hours and an impressive calling card for writer Perera, not to mention another feather in the cap for the Golden Globe-nominated Chastain. An Oscar nomination wouldn’t have felt out of place, either.
Hard to root for but mesmerising to watch, Sloane is expertly portrayed by Chastain in this dialogue-heavy lobbyist thriller that should please fans of both actor and genre.