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Review: Miss Sloane – “Chastain is out-there fantastic as Sloane”

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ (2012) was about lobbying for votes to pass the 13th Amendment and abolish slavery. It was a slow-burner in which every frame was composed in a painterly fashion, the titular father figure and national hero regarded with great repose by way of some hagiographic cinematography. Spielberg constantly reminds you that history is in the making – you are seeing venerated history, so show some respect. ‘Miss Sloane‘ is about lobbying votes to pass legislation too, but Washington has changed a lot since then; this is cinematic politics in a post-House of Cards, post-Aaron Sorkin, post-Trump world. Politics is corrupt, characters are barely ideological, but are always fast-talking and declarative, fuelled by the acrimony of the morning papers and the caffeine of the coffee shop.

Whereas Abe’s legacy is a case of working the system to deliver righteous justice, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), the powerful Washington lobbyist, is a parasite on democracy, a corporate interest on the heels of elected officials. She’s a ferocious workaholic who knows the job inside out and she chastises anyone who doesn’t know it as well as her (which is everyone) – a “personification of an ice-cube,” as one character accurately refers to her. She joins the anti-gun lobby to pass gun legislation, and we’re unsure whether she cares for the cause or seeks the thrill of the challenge.

Chastain is out-there fantastic as Sloane. Following her turn in ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘, this is an actress almost single-handedly putting women at the centre of political thrillers, showing that they can be just as complex and interesting as characters than men. Portraying women fairly isn’t necessarily about portraying them positively (that would make it Saintly adoration antithetical to the feminist purpose), but showing them as complex, driven and capable. Sloane is a frequently detestable figure, and certainly a cold one. Sex is a corporate transaction, an inconvenient human impulse she quenches in order to focus better on work. At one point, confronted by a respected feminist, Sloane is told “the only thing you’re missing is a dick.” While the film is somewhat apolitical in its gun politics, there is something positive to be said that the film passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. The heart of the film is, in fact, the relationship between Sloane and her female protégé, the one person who may be able to soften the Ice Queen’s heart.

There’s some obligatory underground car park scenes that one expects of a political thriller, some files are exchanged, paranoia occurs, rain falls when things get dramatic, and there’s also plenty of shouting. Therein, Miss Sloane is teetering between serious engagement and cartoonish melodrama, unfortunately slipping into the latter come the last third, when a ridiculous twist undermines all the character development and intrigue for the sake of a mediocre revelation. Unfortunately, when real-world politics is as dramatic and absurd as any screenwriter can imagine, there’s something a bit superfluous and uneventful to this post-mortem examination of a post-democratic world.

Miss Sloane is in UK cinemas from 12th May 2017.

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