Miss Sloane begins with a prim Jessica Chastain being fussed over by makeup artists and legal counsel, as she repeats her personal mantra: “Lobbying is about anticipating your opponent’s moves and devising counter measures”. Jonathan Perera’s first time script sticks ardently to this, often to a fault. It is a Sorkin-esque romp through the moral vagaries of the lobbying system, littered with cliche, high drama, absurdist moments, and in the end a genuine sense of heart and pathos.
Sloane herself is a vicious, successful lobbyist. Her brazen attitude is crystallized in a meeting with the incredibly powerful Gun Lobby, who ask her to help them with the female demographic, to which she laughs in their face. She’s inevitably chastised by her boss, and a not-so-chance meeting with anti-gun lobbyist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) convinces her to decamping from her prestigious job to help garner support for the Heaton-Harris Gun Regulation bill, albeit at a smaller firm.
Chastain as Sloane is an incredible force of nature, a woman playing what is usually a traditionally masculine role, spitting out witty observations about voting habits and loopholes in law like many a suit before her, but there’s a keenly emotional edge to her performance. She believes, one suspects both in and out of character, of the obvious moral responsibility she has to get the bill to pass, such is its obvious worth.
Her character is complex, indulges in the solicitation as a substitute for relationships, and chemical stimulation instead of sleep. It’s hard to parse the ins and outs of her role from my perspective. Some may label her as a simple gender flip, others a well written and unique character, but her role comes with the baggage of years preceding it. Thankfully Chastain attacks the role with such restrained ferocity it never feels contrived, or even like anyone else could have successfully taken her place.
The plot does suffer from Sloane pushing into one too many moral grey areas and there is some absurd surveillance tech at one point. The pieces also click together far too smoothly which lends Sloane a preternatural skill and foresight, but one outstanding sequence that reveals the extent to which she is willing to pursue her Machiavellian machinations lends the film a strong core that justifies some of the fantasy.
Despite these flaws, Miss Sloane is an interesting look into the world of lobbying and the lengths America will go to enshrine guns as a civil right. The supporting cast oil the wheels further, with John Lithgow’s Congressman Sterling and Sloan’s Ex-Boss Dupont (Sam Waterston) make for great self-interested ‘villains’, whilst Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives an exceptional performance as an anti-gun lobbyist with a very real investment in the desire for regulation.
If you can look past some of its more egregious lapses into coincidence, this is a fast, witty and effective film. The overly mechanical plotting and reveals can grate at times, but a film about gun control without its fair share of Chekovian firearms would likely feel a little half-cocked.