Miss Sloane full movie review - Aims High, But Misses
Sometimes a problem or a complex situation can be clarified by examining it through the impartial eyes of people unaffected by the issue. And that's both the primary strength and the major weakness of Miss Sloane, a new political drama released this week by EuropaCorp USA.
Miss Sloane takes a quintessential and controversial American issue?gun control?and places it squarely into the hands of European filmmakers. And although the film's producers insist the picture is not intended as a tirade or a criticism of United States laws governing access to firearms, it is ultimately impossible to see the picture from any other perspective.
Set in the world of Washington insiders and political power brokers, Miss Sloane details the experiences of a fictional lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane, described as the most formidable and sought-after political activist in the nation's capital. Sloane, we are told, is known equally for her intelligence, her cunning and ruthlessness, and her single-minded pursuit of success by any means.
When new legislation is proposed and gains traction in Congress which would increase accountability and background checks on gun buyers, Sloane is assigned by her firm's director to work with the National Rifle Association to defeat the bill. But on a whim of principle, Sloane impulsively decides to leave the firm for a more sympathetic agency, and instead use her particular skills in an effort to have the controversial legislation enacted.
Written by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera, a British citizen living in South Korea, the project was optioned by Europe's Filmnation Entertainment, where it attracted the attention of British filmmaker John Madden, best known for 1998's Shakespeare in Love, the winner of seven Academy Awards.
And Miss Sloane is extremely well-made, with a brilliant performance by Jessica Chastain in the difficult and vastly unsympathetic title role. Chastain has become one of our most talented and versatile actresses, with a string of noteworthy appearances in critically-acclaimed pictures such as Interstellar and The Martian, but also finding time to appear occasionally on Broadway and in interesting little horror pictures such as Mama and Crimson Peak.
With an icy blue-eyed stare and ruby-red lips, dark power suits, alabaster pallor and fingernails lacquered black, Chastain's characterization of Sloane is of a person so single-minded and focused that she seems barely human?a bloodless, pill-popping, bullets-for-breakfast Princess of Darkness preaching a gospel of accomplishment at any cost.
While supported ably by a cast including such old pros as Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Dylan Baker, and Christine Baranski, Chastain is in firm control of the screen from the first frame of film to the last, although she's nearly matched in power and intensity by British actor Mark Strong, sporting an eminently persuasive American accent as Sloane's employer.
Miss Sloane stakes its claim in writer Aaron Sorkin's territory, but with the signature rat-a-tat American vernacular dialogue Sorkin has displayed in A Few Good Men and television's The West Wing filtered through the European sensibilities of screenwriter Perera. As a result, where Sorkin could've made the words leap and soar, the rhythm of Perera's phrasing is often labored and flat and the tempo plodding and stagy, like swing music played by a marching band. And the jaw-dropping denouement of Miss Sloane needs to be seen to be believed, although in retrospect clues are scattered like crumbs throughout the picture.
Dating from the earliest film adaptations of Dickens' A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities in 1910 and 1911 through Schindler's List in 1993 and up to the present time, a popular device of motion pictures has always been the amoral character who experiences an epiphany of conscience and as a result becomes an altruist and a humanitarian. And that general description fits Miss Sloane.
But lying beneath the moralistic fiber of the picture is a rich vein of cynicism, an observation not assuaged by director Madden's haste to get the picture into theaters quickly: After principal photography ended in mid-October, the filmmaker sped Miss Sloane through post-production and astonishingly completed the picture in time for a premiere at the American Film Institute Festival on November 11. A wide national release followed on December 9, coinciding with an international debut that same day at the Dubai Film Festival.
Madden remarked recently, "I wanted to get the film out this year because I didn't want us to get out-of-sync with the gun issue. My views come as no surprise. But it's not my country, and it's not my issue, though from a humanist standpoint I'm entitled to my view on it."
Indeed, the tone of the movie is uneven enough to unnerve the NRA and other opponents of gun control, who have unsurprisingly taken to openly criticizing Miss Sloane, even in some cases without having seen the completed picture. And with a debate in the United States as vehement as the regulation of firearms, any uneven handling of the issue, no matter how well intentions, will inevitably result in division and dissension.
But although the filmmakers acknowledge candidly that they expected an enormously different and more sympathetic political climate to prevail by the time of their picture's release, the point remains the same: When a contentious political situation is presented in a manner which is more favorably weighted to one side of the debate, drama can run the inherent risk of becoming propaganda.
As such, although thematically relevant, sharply intelligent, deeply effective, and extremely well-crafted, Miss Sloane probably?and unfortunately?cannot be judged as anything other than a curio, and a fascinating failure in its intent. While it's revealing to view the argument through European eyes, possibly in the hands of American filmmakers Miss Sloane could've found the moderation it needed to examine the issues more fully.
Miss Sloane aims high. But ultimately the picture misses its mark by pulling just a little too far to the left.