Shakespeare in Love director John Madden’s political drama-thriller Miss Sloane is a film likely to distract those with the political issues it presents, and given its tendency to fall too much into the debate rather than the higher target it argues against (lobbying), the success or failure of it will be hinged on the partisan perspective of the viewer. Starring Jessica Chastain in her coldest role to date, Miss Sloane follows Elizabeth Sloane, a manipulative, stone-faced Washington D.C. lobbyist. Working for a major lobbying firm, Sloane is all about the art of the win and purposefully uses anticipatory strategy to either advance or defeat political action on Capitol Hill. Presented with the opportunity to defeat a gun control bill with a universal background check prevision, Sloane decides against the opportunity and chooses to leave her firm to work for their opposition in support of the gun control bill.
The film weaves back and forth between Sloane’s private emotional and professional ethical deficiencies, creating a complex though overly-shelled character reminiscent of the highly popular female anti-heroes such as Olivia Pope (from TV’s Scandal) or Annalise Keating (from TV’s How to Get Away with Murder) minus the soap opera-esque Harry Houdini evasions of legal culpability. However, the film leaves itself vulnerable to the partisan political bickering as it seems more invested in the gun control debate than it is the ethical quagmire that is lobbying and its gross influence over the broken American political system that have reduced elections to theater and issues to personalities. While it certainly plays up the mechanics of this reality, it does more with cynical, matter-of-fact quips and one-liners while it devotes the majority of its emotional content to the gun issues as personified by the character of Esme Manucharian (played convincingly by Gugu Mbatha-Raw). In a political climate of rampant leftist defeat and barely resonating sentiment for its core issues, Miss Sloane may read triumphant in its Hollywood fantasy but in reality, it comes off more as another opportunity to fall into a circular debate in which the left-wing position leaves with nothing but its anger.
With such a tilt toward the political issue instead of the political system, it diverts its attention from its core issue (much like the film’s marketing campaign which likely poisoned its commercial prospects). Instead, the film feels more like the saccharine, left-wing pipe dream of 2000’s The Contender meets the “fixer” drama of Michael Clayton. For a left-wing individual, it might prove a fruitful excursion in the era of “Trumpism” even with its obvious Usual Suspects, M. Night Shyamalan twist ending that seems like the kind of “Hail Mary” divine intervention the left desperately wants this Christmas (you know, to wake up realizing 2016 was all a dream). However, for those adverse to the political implications of the issues it explores, it will simply be a dud, which is unfortunate given the strength of many aspects of its screenplay and characters, and the importance of its main subject. Jessica Chastain’s performance certainly cements itself to the cream of her acting crop alongside The Help, Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year, and is likely the only thing to transcend the partisan reaction and criticism of the film. If anything deserves that, it would be Chastain’s performance.