There is every chance that Miss Sloane is Oscar bait, with its precise placement of melodrama and its carefully calculated monologues. And yet the title of the film, lacking the fortitude of the prevailing story, fails to resonate and consequently jeopardises its potential to reach a wider audience (perhaps even its target audience).
Those who are plucky enough to watch the film will find themselves at the mercy of a keen and audacious political thriller that plays heavily on the drama. It tells the story of a successful Washington lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who risks her reputation and career by taking on the country’s most powerful political group, the American gun lobby. She is an unscrupulous woman, with no regard for ethical lines, who lives for the challenge and stops at nothing to win.
Miss Sloane adheres to a reliable formula and presents its story in a familiar fashion, conjuring memories of similarly themed films such as Erin Brockovich; Jessica Chastain’s impressive turn evokes memories of Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning performance. The film opens with Sloane staring down the lens and establishing herself as a confident and calculating woman. It’s a smart move, foregoing the film’s obligation of providing subtext and providing the audience with a steely figure they’ll attempt to crack throughout the course of the film.
Other films such as All The President’s Men and Class Action also provide a base of comparison and while they don’t necessarily bare any direct correlation, they embody the same sense of righteousness for their cause. America’s ongoing issue of gun rights and the protection of the 2nd amendment is, perhaps, more relevant now than it ever has been, and Miss Sloane has come along and put the topic front-row and centre for the world to discuss. For countries with strict gun-laws, such as Australia and England, the film’s anti-gun position seems logical, however I imagine that such a film can be met with more resistance from particular parties in the U.S.
Of course, Miss Sloane has a clear bias and it makes no apologies for its position on gun control, and given that the story primarily follows the one side of the lobby, it could be said that the film is politically motivated without much exploration for the opposing argument. Sure, there’s truth to that, although it does occasionally present several counter-arguments that provide pause for differing perspectives.
Occupying almost every scene in the film, Chastain delivers an unwavering performance that, while occasionally excessive, propels the film well. Her supporting cast, which includes Mark Strong, Sam Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and John Lithgow, bring a level of authority that further strengthens the narrative. It is no surprise that Waterston and Lithgow offer particularly compelling performances and their on-screen presence here is commanding.
At 132 minutes, Miss Sloane overstays its welcome by roughly 20 minutes or so and would have benefited from a tauter edit. Nevertheless, much of the film’s shortcomings rise up around the mid-way point, allowing the final act to facilitate the film’s most compelling moments. It is a story that provides a bounty of surprises and manages to contradict its formulaic structure with unexpected developments. The end result is a thoroughly absorbing film – made with a modest reported budget of $US13 million to boot – that explores a taboo subject and helps to maintain the national discussion. Again, I am not sold on the film’s title, but I am certainly sold on the film’s merit.
Although it feels like a picture crafted with an awards season in mind, Miss Sloane hasn’t found much trophy love (even if Chastain did receive a Golden Globe nomination) and missed its mark theatrically in the U.S. In an age where bigger, superficial Hollywood films take our hard-earned cash, it’s important to take note when smaller, but very good films like this come our way. Be sure to add Miss Sloane to your watch list.