Miss Sloane

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Miss Sloane
"One admires the cleverness of it, while wondering if there really are people who live like this."

The art of political lobbying? Simple, at least according to Miss Sloane (Jessica Chastain), hero and star of the film of the same name: all you need do is play your trump card right after the other side have played theirs.

And so she does, through every twist and turn of a film whose central preoccupation is the question of whether a seriously underfunded gun control campaign can ever have a chance against the deeper pockets of the far more influential. Until, of course, the final reel.

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Has Elizabeth (Miss Sloane) finally been done in by the cunning plans of the various suited and privileged lobbyists, senators and psychopaths ranged against her on the other side Or will she, with one bound, be free?

I'll say no more, since either outcome is equally plausible: you'll have to watch to find out.

The film's plot, which clearly represents something very peculiar to the US system, will be familiar to anyone who remembers The American President (1995), in which a firm of lobbyists, led by Annette Bening, worked against both clock and calendar to win over sufficient congressmen to support for environmental protection measures. Here, the countdown involves converting sufficient senators to the cause (a total of 60) to prevent the inevitable filibuster against any gun control measures.

This is bookended by a senate hearing in which Miss Sloane's activities and principles are questioned: it begins with her being briefed by a corporate lawyer who is obviously less than impressed by her ethical apparoach and ends (almost) with legal fireworks before a Senate hearing convened to investigate her. The outcome, should she fall: a minimum five years jailtime and disgrace from which, it is suggested, she can never recover.

And this, really is the meat of the film, despite the lobbying hijinks that goes on between. The clever-clever ups and downs as Elizabeth edges the total of supporters ever nearer to that magical 60.

Which is why I found this a difficult film to like. Admire, yes. Because – jettisoning the card-playing metaphor that runs from start to end – this film plays like an incredibly fine game of chess, with each side taking their turn to move, each side, in turn, apparently having the advantage.

The tone though is every smart US drama ever – think West Wing on speed! - in which sharp East Coast grads talk loudly and very fast, while settling the fate of the Union. One admires the cleverness of it, while wondering if there really are people who live like this.

Nor am I a fan of the super intellect who fixes up every move, every card in advance. It is a neat conceit: but whether Benedict Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, anticipating every single one of his opponents manoeuvres, or a team effort, as played by a gang of equally sassy hip young magicians in Now You See Me, I do not believe you. I do not believe life falls so neatly or is capable of such acute prediction, and that means that ultimately the film fails – for me - the critical suspension of disbelief test.

That said, if you like this genre, you will LOVE this film – and it is well done: an absolute tour de force by Chastain, who is on-screen almost throughout, and whose performance is immaculate.

Against this there are strong performances from Mark Strong, in the role of Rodolfo Schmidt, the head of the ethical lobbying firm for whom Elizabeth is prepared to switch sides. Also from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as fellow lobbyist Esme, whose trust Elizabeth betrays with near fatal consequences, and Jake Lacy, as male escort Forde, whose services Elizabeth pays for on a regular basis.

Despite the opportunities this back story provides for demonstrating that Elizabeth has human failings, the film is unusual and impressive in mostly ignoring this aspect of the narrative. Why does she switch sides? We never quite find out. Why is she the way she is? Ditto.

As for weaknesses, in those moments when other films would relent and allow us to peek through a chink in this superwoman's armour, Miss Sloane stays schtum. And there, in what is not said between Elizabeth and Esme or Elizabeth and Forde the film delivers its emotional clout.

This is not my favourite type of film: despite that, I found myself engaged, interested and impressed beyond words by the performance of Chastain. And if it is your sort of film, I suspect you will be waxing even more lyrical.

Reviewed on: 09 May 2017
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A ruthless Washington lobbyist takes on gun control.

Read more Miss Sloane reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

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