Jessica Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, a cunning, hard-charging ruthless D.C. lobbyist, who works 16-hour days, eats only out of necessity, and reduces sex to a simple financial transaction. She has no friends, only allies, and she belittles her co-workers, is insubordinate to her bosses, and makes a career out of pissing off the wrong people.
She’s bad ass.
In Miss Sloane, Elizabeth is approached by the gun lobby and asked to create a campaign to make guns more appealing to women by promoting their ability to neutralize abusive husbands. Sloane scoffs at the job opportunity, quits her job with a high-powered lobbying firm, and takes up employ with a small boutique firm run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to face off against the gun lobby by attempting to push a bill through Congress that would close the gun-show loophole on background checks. She doesn’t go up against the gun lobby, however, because of a crisis of consciousness. She takes the job because she likes the challenge of being the small guy taking on the gun lobby.
Her tactics, however, do not change. At the small boutique firm, she exploits her do-gooder co-workers (Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Esme Manucharian among them), continues to sleep with a prostitute (Jake Lacy), and battles her old firm (ran by characters played by Sam Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Sloane’s protege, Alison Pill) with only one goal in mind: To win at all costs. The cause always comes before the people. That goal eventually brings her before a Senate Ethics Commission to face charges brought against her by Congressman Ron M. Sperling (John Lithgow). It’s the Senate hearing that frames the entire film.
Last year, Sandra Bullock played a political operative in a role that was originally written for George Clooney in Our Brand Is Crisis. It was not a good movie. Miss Sloane feels like a part that might have been written for a man 5 years ago — sleazy, unethical, workaholic lobbyist who fucks prostitutes — but Chastain wears the role like a glove. She delivers an incredible Oscar-worthy performance, and it’s a testament to Chastain that we still maintain a morsel of empathy for her character throughout, even as she exploits the more likable characters.
Miss Sloane — which would appeal to fans of the Newsroom (Pill and Waterston) or The Good Wife (Christine Baranski also makes an appearance) — operates a lot like a political heist. It’s something akin to Aaron Sorkin (minus the condescension) crossed with Ocean’s 11, only with power brokers, who are thieves and con men of a different stripe.
Freshman scribe Jonathan Perera’s screenplay doesn’t always live up to the talents of the cast, but veteran director John Madden and Chastain blunt some of the more tin-eared lines and deliver a briskly paced political caper that is smart, sophisticated, and completely entertaining. It also serves as a reminder that’s more welcome right now than it should be. It doesn’t matter who the President is in this country. It’s money and lobbyists that drive policy.