Miss Sloane follows in the footsteps of films like Lincoln and Selma, films that revolve around people fighting for the greater good by using any means necessary, even if it means applying shady tactics including, but not limited to, manipulation and backdoor politics. I’ll go ahead and say that Miss Sloane is the lesser of these three, but it still serves as a solid piece of political pulp filmmaking that manages to have a relevance to it. Another thing the film shares with those others is how they use the political backdrop to explore the figure at the very center of it.
The film is first and foremost a character study, focusing in on the lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a powerful, cunning and brilliant strategist, who welcomes each campaign as a challenge that she takes to psychotic places just so she can come out on top. And the film thrives whenever Chastain does her thing. She commands the screen with a fiery, razorsharp determination and confidence that is effortlessly compelling. It’s one of those films where a large part of it being a satisfying experience comes directly out of seeing driven and smart people being really, really damn good at their jobs. And considering the film is about her butting heads with right-wing politicians who are trying to stop her from getting support for gun control legislation, it doesn’t take long for you to really root for her to succeed.
Director John Madden takes the screenplay by Jonathan Perera and gives it a real sense of momentum. Even if you get lost in some of the political jargon, there’s a clear sense of an action and reaction with each beat building on what came before. There’s nothing particularly ambitious or groundbreaking in the filmmaking here, but Madden provides an assuring eye and a solid workmanship that is perfectly functional and straight to the point. That and the solid work from the cast makes some the occasionally cringey Aaron Sorkin-wannabe walk-and-talk, fast-paced banter much easier to swallow. It’s not bad, but you can actively feel the movie try really hard to make each line punchy and sharp and clever. The film even has a touch of A Few Good Men (written by Aaron Sorkin), in using a trial with Sloane as a narrative device to use multiple flashbacks in telling the story. The Sorkin influence is pretty strong. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
As the film goes along, it does a solid job at balancing the deeper character stuff with Sloane as well as keeping you on edge with her campaign process, it’s consistent, even if it does begin to drag toward the last half hour. However, the film takes a rather sharp turn at the very end. While everything before is very much in grounded, cold, thriller mode, the ending pushes the film into straight up Frank Capra territory. In fact, the ending isn’t all that dissimilar to that of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, while also adding in a sudden “gotcha” twist that is so hokey and cheap and dumb that as much as I could criticize it, I can’t deny it put a big smile on my face.
I won’t get into detail (at the risk of getting spoilery, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph), but the ending is a happy one, an optimistic one. On a story level, I think the film earns it, even if doesn’t translate very well tonally, from a filmmaking standpoint. However, considering the recent events in American politics, there’s a real catharsis in seeing someone fight for good and succeeding at the point where it seemed like all hope was lost. It was the kind of release that I needed as I was sitting in the theater watching it, and I think it’s the kind of release and hope that others might need, as well. I understand that it’s a flawed ending, and that it will be a make it or break it moment for many others, but I appreciated it.
Miss Sloane is rock solid. It does often trade in nuance for pulpy thrills, but it’s delivered with a conviction that matches that of its title character. It rides on the skills of the cast – not just Chastain, but also supporting players like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston, and John Lithgow, and they all bring it, creating a sense of legitimacy to even the silliest of moments. I’m probably being too forgiving, but sometimes a film can have a big impact if it comes at just the right time and context, and I think Miss Sloane is the kind of hero that will speak to a lot of people. 65/100