Film Review: MISS SLOANE (USA/France 2016)

miss_sloane_movie_posterDirected by John Madden

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow

Review by Gilbert Seah

MISS SLOANE is a political thriller that demands the audience believe certain incredible plot points. One is that a person would serve jail time for something he or she believes in.

Directed by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, MRS. BROWN) from a script by Jonathan Perera, MISS SLOANE the film is based on the lead character of the same name. In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win. But when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds that winning may come at too high a price. At one point in the film when Sloane’s campaign faces a major setback, she is asked: “Why don’t you quit?” Her answer: “And do what?”
The film begins with her court case in which she is questioned on her ethical practices as a lobbyist. The senator presiding the case is corrupt Senator Sperling (John Lithgow), blackmailed to do the job by George Dupont (Sam Waterston). The film flashes back to the events leading to the inquisition and follows what happens to Miss Sloane after.

The film is quick to get the audience on Sloane’s side, no matter guilty or not. Sloane is super good at her job, dishing out her advice while tearing down her opponents without any feeling of guilt of any kind. The unfortunate victims include her team members as well, as in Esme Manuchairan (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who at one point in the film tells Sloane as it is : You are smart enough to know that. You just don’t care.”
The film does not take sides on the issue of gun control though Miss Sloane is pro-gun control. There is also a segment in the film when the tides are turned (the attempted shooting of Esme) against Sloane’s favour. Madden never makes it clear whether the incident was orchestrated by Sloane. It looks as if it was completely planned but Madden leaves it to the audience to make up their own minds. The film also contains some false alarms such as the appearance of Sloane’s hooker, (Jack Lacy) at her trial to keep the audience on their toes.

The ultimate question on whether the film succeeds is whether the rats, in the words of Sloane, the parasites of the American democracy can be outed within the credibility of Perera’s script. The answer is barely. The film hinges 100% on the credibility of actress Jessica Chastain’s performance. Chastain is good but the plot just asks for too much credibility.

The film contains many highly charged dramatic set-ups, a few too obviously predictable for the seasoned film cineastes and the film critic. But the writing and dialogue is still good to hear. Perera writes choice quotes. Miss Sloane always has the perfect rebuttal to every argument under the sun. As Miss Sloane says in the film: “Lobbying is about foresight. It is about anticipating the moves before the opponent does.” In the same way, the film tries its best to stay one step ahead of what the audience anticipates.


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