Wow, is Miss Sloane an emotional punch in the gut, and not intentionally on the part of the filmmakers. This is a film that anticipated a very different world after the election in November, demonstrating an empowering story of a career-driven woman who takes on a corrupt system and uses political cunning to take on one of the most conservative and powerful lobbies in Washington. This film is built from the ground up to be an award-baiting victory lap in the wake of President Clinton’s impressive victory, and while I’m sure that the alternate universe where that happened is celebrating this film, in this reality it comes off as a bit strikingly sour. That unfortunate reminder of the world we live in aside, Miss Sloane is a good movie, if not quite the award winner it so desperately wants to be.
The titular Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a cutthroat lobbyist working for one of the top firms on The Hill. However, when her bosses attempt to give her an account with the gun lobby in a fight against impending firearms legislation, Sloane quits her job, takes a portion of her team with her, and begins working for the opposing side. What follows is a tense thriller that pits Sloane against her old firm in a fight to win the most congressional votes which eventually becomes personal as the gun lobby trains its sights on Sloane personally.
The film is appropriately tense and tightly written, obviously taking inspiration from the works of Aaron Sorkin in terms of fast, snappy expositional dialogue. Director John Madden and writer Jonathan Perera do an excellent job of breaking down complex political intrigue into easily digestible lines that are both informative of the issues and of the mechanics of the plot. That’s a tricky balance that a lot of political thrillers don’t quite nail, and as a consequence Miss Sloane never feels slow or dull. The biggest failing of the writing is that it telegraphs some of its biggest twists a little too heavily, making the film unfortunately a bit too predictable. For example, when a character’s name is mispronounced as “Manchurian” three times within the space of a couple minutes, the symbolism of her eventual role is a little too on-the-nose.
Where Miss Sloane makes its biggest fumbles, though, is in its desire to be a character study. Chastain gives a killer performance, breathing life into Sloane as an unsympathetic ice queen who places winning above all else at any cost, and she is the biggest reason to see the film at all. There’s a level of nuance to Elizabeth Sloane that goes deeper than the fact that she secretly has a heart, so it’s unfortunate that the film’s method of portraying that depth is in a pseudo-romantic subplot that goes nowhere. Sloane is a client to an escort service that has sent her a new prostitute, and for no discernable reason this character takes an interest in Sloane that is supposed to come across as the closest thing she has to a human connection, but instead injects a romantic element into a film that doesn’t need it. It’s just as well that the film eventually abandons this thread, but it’s an unwelcome distraction that ultimately serves as a red herring in a film that could have studied its workaholic protagonist in her natural workplace environment.
Miss Sloane is a good, entertaining film in its own right, but it could have been more tightly written in order to achieve greatness. Despite all its surface cynicism, there’s a level of optimism about one woman’s ability to make a difference in the world that makes one feel good. That is, until you remember who will be occupying the Oval Office come January. This is a political thriller that came out in the wrong political climate. It’s well worth seeing; just prepare for some unintentional melancholy as the credits start to roll.