THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The way lobbying impacts our lives is both fascinating and frustrating. Our democracy is sometimes shaped not by what the people want, but by what corporations are willing to pay big money for. Other times, lobbyists fight for important, necessary change. Miss Sloane is set in this complicated world, featuring a character whose job is to win at all costs. It's a promising concept for a movie, which makes it a shame that the payoff is so weak.
Jessica Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, a well-regarded Washington, D.C. lobbyist. Her firm, run by Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg) and George Dupont (Sam Waterston), wants her to help defeat a very sensible gun control bill. (The film never mentions the NRA directly, but does have her meeting with a businessman who clearly represents an organization of that type.) Rather than taking that route, Sloane accepts a job with the firm of Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) that's committed to getting the bill pushed through. This shift does not sit well with her former employers. The movie's framing device has her sitting before a Congressional hearing, where Congressman Ron Sperling (John Lithgow) is trying mightily to nail her to a wall.
The first hour of Miss Sloane is entertaining in an Aaron Sorkin-y way. It has the same fast-paced, topical dialogue found on The West Wing or The Newsroom. Sloane reveals her philosophy on lobbying, which is to hold a trump card that no one else knows about until the moment it is played. She works, with the help of her team, to find that card by identifying politicians who can be squeezed. Much of the fun comes from the fact that, for Sloane, winning is everything and losing is unacceptable. She is ruthless in her drive, sometimes even skirting ethics to achieve her goal. In other words, a genuinely absorbing character.
Jessica Chastain is excellent in the role. She captures the kind of type-A personality that causes people to become obsessed with victory, even at the expense of their own likability. The actress isn't afraid to play someone the audience is supposed to be turned off by at times. And we are. Sloane is undoubtedly abrasive, willing to use other people if it advances her cause. At the same time, we're intrigued by her laser-focus and determination. With this character, Chastain once again proves why she's one of the most important actresses working today.
It's in the second hour that Miss Sloane stumbles badly. In an effort to play fair to both sides of the gun control issue, the story throws in a dumb twist that is far too manufactured to be real. There were less manipulative ways to accomplish the same thing. Even worse is the ending. Rather than keeping its eye on the world of lobbying, Jonathan Perera's screenplay evolves into a potboiler. Things that are obviously being set up to pay off later – like Sloane's trysts with a male escort (Jake Lacy) – do so in a very predictable manner. Then, in the final ten minutes, credibility is stretched to the breaking point by an absurd turn of events that literally had me rolling my eyes.
What begins as an intelligent probe into the world of lobbying ends up a generic thriller that's more about the “surprise” twists than about the actual subject matter. Chastain has a killer role in Miss Sloane, for sure. The movie itself fails her.
( out of four)
Miss Sloane is rated R for language and some sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.
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