An incredible performance in an average film. It is an all too common occurrence in today’s cinema. Just look at The Imitation Game, Trumbo, or Dallas Buyers Club for recent points of reference. Ever easy is it to heap praise and reward on a project merely based upon the gravity of its central performance. Following in such traditions is Miss Sloane, the latest legal drama from director John Madden, who ignites an utterly volcanic performance in Jessica Chastain. That’s not to say the film is without merit – on the contrary – but the sheer ferocity of its titular protagonist is perhaps potent enough to kid some viewers into thinking this one’s “better” than it actually is…
Reuniting with Chastian following their pairing on 2010’s neglected The Debt, his new film unfolds in the high-stakes landscape of political lobbying. Elizabeth Sloane is perhaps the most formidable, laser-focused lobbyist in Washington D.C.; a force to be reckoned with, and understandably the most sought-after in the business. She is quickly called up by the head of a powerful gun lobby, who desires her assistance to help convince women to oppose a bill which will impose new regulations on the sale and distribution of firearms. Rejecting the offer, Sloane switches over to a scrappy, cash-stricken firm in order to fight the opposition, chaired by Mark Strong’s Rodolfo Schmidt.
From the opening frames, one thing is entirely evident: this is Chastain’s movie. Not Madden’s, nor debutant screenwriter Jonathan Perera’s, it is hers, and she is going to secure every single inch of the 132 minute runtime. This is a simply radioactive performance from one of the best currently in operation; an emphatically controlled, cinematically disciplined role which has definition, weight, and complex shades of elevated morality. Sloane is unpredictable and coy, making her an ever-contrasting, yet entirely compelling character to dwell with. Chastain’s ability to influence those surrounding her is most impressive, but never does a single supporting performer even inhale a breath of the air she reaches. How her work here wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award back in February is quite frankly beyond comprehension.
Madden exercises his lens with precision throughout, too. The sprawling interiors, such as courtrooms, board meetings, and slinking apartment blocks, are all captured with rich angles, making for visuals as sharp and spiky as our heroine. However a frustrating yet key component is always running alongside, trying desperately to blunt the blade: the script. To call it baggy would be an understatement, and to call it contrived would be complimentary. As debut pieces go, Perera has bitten off way more than he can chew. Chastain chows down like a champion, but even she gargles on some of the incessant legal jargon, which is by-and-large embarrassing. Dialogue is spat with rapid pace, with plentiful (and disposable) talking heads all swapping terminologies over each other. Pretty soon it all becomes tin-eared; lacking any subtlety or nuance, and the film struggles to recover from the damage.
If the inane argot wasn’t enough, Perera’s prose also becomes progressively more ludicrous across each act. By the time we reach the final stretch, Sloane is no longer a lucid and compulsive lobbyist, rather a female incarnation of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. There’s being able to think ahead, and to play/manipulate your competition, but her abilities become almost other-worldly. The developments shift so idiotically that the pertinent messages of the narrative – the controlling of firearms; a meaty, emotive subject which deserves a deeper analysis – are submerged in favour of a silly political superhero.
Despite the sheer ineptitude of its storytelling, Miss Sloane still manages to remain entertaining for the majority of its duration. Sure, it is an incredibly dumb film dressed up to be smart and sophisticated, but a simply explosive screen turn from the consistently impressive Chastain, paired with Madden’s ostentatious direction, and engaging assistance from the likes of Strong, Guga Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, and Alison Pill, makes this one recommendable. Just approach it with a level of disbelief…
Miss Sloane opens in UK cinemas on Friday, 12th May.