Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden, is a film that offers both a powerhouse performance by, Jessica Chastain and a powerhouse of a character; one that dominates every scene she is in, and has your full attention at all times (quite deservingly). And then beyond that it also has a tightly woven narrative that keeps you engaged in a subject that isn’t always the easiest to make compelling on-screen. There are many complexities to discuss within, Miss Sloane so let’s dispense with the introduction and get onto the review.
We follow, Elizabeth Sloane – played by Jessica Chastain – who is one of the most formidable and sought after political lobbyists in all of D.C. But she comes up against her toughest opponent yet; gun control and an attempt to reform it. Not only will her political prowess be tested, but her personal life and ability to keep it together will be also. This will be a task, that for the first time, she might not be able to win.
Front centre is the character of Elizabeth Sloane, who is a continually fascinating and giving character (in terms of the juicy, sadistic character moments she offers). Sloane is at times like a wall; never revealing her play, pushing people away and generally treating them like tools and less like colleagues/friends. Other times she is manipulative and oddly forthcoming with whom she is which in turn puts you on the back foot, as you try to decipher this change in character. The interesting thing about Sloane, as a character, is that you never truly know what she is up to and what her angle is on a particular political movement – which is something that keeps you guessing and engaged with this mysteriously enchanting individual.
There would be moments in the film; scenes where I thought I had sussed out the play that, Sloane was going for, or had seen through the act and noticed something telling about a particular response to a situation, only to then have everything completely flipped on me. Not only was she playing a game with someone in the scene, but she had also gotten one over on me, completely re-shaping my assumption of how a particular plot point would transpire and also who exactly, Elizabeth Sloane was. It almost became like a fun little game, trying to guess and see thorough the lies and the double crosses.
And when I would miss something – have there be a moment that comes out of nowhere and side swipe me – well those were moments that fully had my attention and always wowed me. Miss Sloane is a film that will forever have you guessing, right up until its very last scene – though I will say that one of the final scenes in particular, did feel a little too convenient and a little heavy-handed in its approach. It didn’t necessarily diminish the overall effect of the film, but it certainly nagged at me, and left me slightly annoyed. But anyway, back to what I was saying.
There is more to Sloane than just political mind games. The complexities of this character are constant and never dull. When a moment of weakness would show (though you were never 100% sure it was a moment of weakness, but stay with me) it was like seeing a glimpse of something wrong, like you shouldn’t be watching, as it may come back to hurt you later on. These were times in the film were the character would evolve and show something… something more; something else.
Characters like Elizabeth Sloane don’t come along very often – particularly in a political drama. She plays the game in Washington like any good character from your favourite political drama (House of Cards, The West Wing, The Ides of March etc.) but she also then has the qualities of a sociopath mixed with the vulnerabilities of someone with a troubled childhood. And then there is even more mixed in that might be part of her or it might be part of a façade, you’re never sure. And its reasons like that, and more, why watching her is something that never becomes boring to do. It is perhaps, Jessica Chastain’s best performance I’ve seen yet, and the levels that she goes to in this film only support that belief.
When I think the character of, Sloane works at its best is when she is interacting with… well anyone. Not only does the film have a well-developed supporting cast of characters for her to bounce off of, but Sloane as a character has such a gleefully cruel way of interacting with those supporting characters.
She is fast, she is usually two steps ahead of everyone else in the room, and she is never afraid to demean someone or use them. Having her chew the head off of someone for incompetence or put them in their place because of their arrogance is something that is nearly always satisfying. But it isn’t just her puffing out her chest and besting everyone else, she also has moments of vulnerability, where she opens up to someone or admits she messed up (big time) and those moments really show someone who is more than just a political machine who can’t be stopped. She is a character who is boundless in her delightfully cruel offerings, and she is also very giving in the more human moments, where morality and self-acceptance re-enter her head and show someone as damaged as the rest of us (if not more). What a character and what a performance.
But that’s not all, Miss Sloane is also a film that has a brilliantly constructed and delivered narrative, which somehow keeps you engaged and following along, despite it being a 2 hour film about trying to reform the second amendment. Well that’s one aspect of the film’s plot; it of course boasts many more aspects which all build into one another, coalescing into a smartly put together experience.
The script for this film is impeccable. Written by, Jonathan Perera, this is a brilliantly layered film. It is able to have separate portions play out, seemingly being disconnected from the main plot, only for them to weave in later on, revealing themselves to be a part of Sloane’s greater plan, and it does that in a clean and really efficient way – never did I feel lost or confused by the events in the film, I always felt like I had a handle on things, which is certainly difficult for a film like this to always achieve.
The film lays out bread crumbs, has you follow along, not knowing that you’re playing into its hands. But what it’s actually doing is making it easier for you to interact and remain in the know; making sure you don’t get lost. But this isn’t just a script that it competent in how it tells its story, it is also a script full of deliciously sadistic dialogue, and cruel character revelations. It has it all, and it is never shy in its want to give it to you.
Perhaps the only point in which people may struggle, is with the levels of political jargon that can be thrown at you. It is ‘Sorkin-Esque’ in its delivery, and so it is at times fast and there are terms that you don’t necessarily understand. This was the only thing I struggled with in the film because it isn’t always the most compelling thing, to watch people politically one up each other with terminology and mumbo-jumbo that you don’t understand, nor are you necessarily interested to know more about. Thankfully it isn’t a problem that ever feels like it dominates the film, as usually there are other elements to the scenes that hold your interest and are more resonant to the fuller film experience.
Miss Sloane is a really well put together film and if you can get past some of the more political heady elements, then I think you will find a character and a story around that character that is really quite compelling and really quite engrossing. I only hope that it doesn’t get buried in all the noise of the bigger budgeted, more eye-catching films that are coming out at this time. Perhaps this would have succeeded better during award season time; certainly Chastain’s performance would have.
And so I will be recommending Miss Sloane. This is certainly a film worth your time as it has much to offer; a layered, damaged character that never disappoints, and a story that is coherent, interesting and thought-provoking in how it is delivered. Absolutely make the effort to see this one, for I am afraid it will be overlooked by many.
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