Movie still from 2016's "Miss Sloane."

Miss Sloane July 11, 2017        

Because she’s an actress so startlingly capable of playing vicious, the eponymous role in Miss Sloane (2016) was perhaps made for her. In the movie, she plays a political lobbyist so exaggeratively venomous she seems like an unusually operatic villainess in a Scandal (2012-present) season. 

 

Thunderous Aaron Sorkin-esque monologues made to prove a very broad point are her métier, as are perfectly tailored suits, jungle red lipsticks, death glares, the insatiable cravings for victory, and, most melodramatically, pills (likely speed) to keep her on her A-game during her 16-hour work days, and gigolos to keep her company during her lonely evenings. She is a cartoon of Washington power, sprayed with an expensive perfume that reeks of the sweet smell of success.

 

We want to write her off as a caricature. And yet, she’s fascinating — Chastain, in light of a screenplay which likes linguistic flash a hell of a lot more than it likes cohesion or anything by way of emotional nuance, finds a barely-there vulnerability in the characterization to inform a performance we struggle to take our eyes off.

 

In the feature, Chastain’s Elizabeth Sloane works at conservative lobbying firm Cole Kravitz & Waterman, leading a ragtag team of hopefuls to support her professional efforts in Washington. Most of her colleagues despise her — she has a bad habit of sizing everyone down several notches even when the occasion isn’t as life-or-death as she acts — but she’s known for standout work, usually getting what she intends to accomplish done and then some.

 

But her impeccable record could be tarnished by a misguided proposal. In the film’s first few moments is she approached by Bob Sanford (Chuck Shamata), a gun manufacturer, to possibly lead the opposition toward the looming Heaton-Harris bill, which proposes an expansion of background checks on all potential gun buyers. Because a lot of the support of the bill is female, Sanford believes Sloane could be integral in gaining support from the demographic. (Which leads, cringingly, to Sloane cackling maniacally and then hissing what an insipid idea that is.)

 

She goes with a hard no in response to Sanford’s plan, and instead takes up an offer by rival lobbyist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to do the opposite and support Heaton-Harris. Taking her team with her, save for her 25-ish assistant (Alison Pill), she begins scheming, considering using new affiliate Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who secretly survived a school shooting in her youth, to help get her the “win” she’s looking for.

 

If the storyline sounds like a snoozer, it is: no political thriller is really all that appetizing when corruption and bribery aren’t central (they only prove to be during the film’s screeching finale). Miss Sloane, it seems, is less interested in a snappy narrative and more in concocting a thorough a character study — it has a terrific leading lady to attend to, after all. Because the jargon is heavy and because the monologues are long-winded and generally only sensical to the people delivering them, the movie is frequently jumbled, a sea of lightning quick dialogue that has no bearing on our understanding, or our interest, in what’s going on.

 

It nearly gets away with completely riding on the coattails on the magnificent Chastain, but not quite: the intellectual mumbo jumbo of the plot distinctly makes Miss Sloane the classic kind of woebegone Oscar bait that hosts a superlative headlining performance but fails to match it. But because Chastain is so terrific, the feature is worth a look — just know that the movie itself is hardly as phenomenal as she is.  B

DIRECTED BY

John Madden

 

STARRING

Jessica Chastain

Mark Strong

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Michael Stuhlbarg

Alison Pill

Jake Lacy

Sam Waterston

John Lithgow

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2016

 

RUNNING TIME

2 Hrs., 12 Mins.

J

essica Chastain has played a wide variety of characters for the duration of her brief career. Yet when I hear her name uttered, images of a powerful woman asserting her dominance always come to mind. Such is most likely because the Chastain performance that sticks out the most to me will forever be the one she commandingly delivered in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, in which she played a crucial figure in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. In that film, the best scene arrives when she verbally takes down the generally affable Kyle Chandler with a ferocious monologue. In that moment, she cements herself

as one of the best actresses of her generation, even though her career as a leading lady only really began in 2011 when she seemed to decide that it would be her year.