5 out of 10
Jessica Chastain as Elizabeth Sloane
Directed by John Madden
Miss Sloane Review:
The anti-hero as a concept has become so ubiquitous, the prefix anti- should probably be removed from it. Initially the idea was a rejection of the classic concept of the hero; a person who has no noble qualities but does great things anyway.
In the modern context, that means usually a rejection of the square-jawed, mid-20th century matinee idol who never told a lie while standing for truth, justice and the American Way. And while Dirty Harry and the like were revelatory when they came along, forty years of familiarity have made them just another variant of the old mold.
Anyone today who says ‘he’s not like your average hero’ would seem to have their idea of heroism frozen alongside old episodes of “Gunsmoke.” Such is the essential problem with Miss Sloane.
Elizabeth Sloan (Chastain) is one of the best lobbyists on Capitol Hill, fighting the good fight for free enterprise everywhere. Because she believes in what she’s doing, more even than in what she’s paid for doing it; she is willing and able to break any rule in the pursuit of her goal.
Which makes her just the happy warrior gun control activists need when the newest form of gun regulation attempts the Bataan Death March that is the US legislative process. Facing off against her old firm and their newest client, the National Rifle Association, she will have to pull every dirty trick she has out to fend off their dirty tricks and make it across the finish line.
But in working for “the good guys” for the first time, will she discover there is more to life than winning and is even she good enough to beat her old comrades at their own game?
The end result is like an Aaron Sorkin drama gone horribly, horribly wrong. Filled wall-to-wall with snappy patter about baroque, bureaucratic subjects and elliptical revelations about Elizabeth’s inner life it repeatedly lapses into the realm of plot twists and contrivances to keep up interest.
Stuck inside a framing sequence of Sloane being held to account in front of a Senate subcommittee, director John Madden (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) attempts to leave the audience guessing throughout … what did she do and who did she do it to? Is she the person you thought she was or someone better? Instead, this means he has to obfuscate everything that is going on, particularly within his main character’s head as she is the only one with all of the cards visible before her.
And then a remote-controlled cockroach shows up.
As Sloane herself, Chastain is fantastic and she should be; she’s been playing variations of this sort of hyper competent, emotionally-stunted heroine for years now. By her own admission, her goal is to guess what everyone else’s endgame is first and then prepare her own but hold it as a secret from everyone.
This leaves the plot and the character stuck as they must attempt to develop, while simultaneously not giving anything up. These are completely contradictory goals and the result is a film suffering from schizophrenia. Screenwriter Jonathan Perera attempts to work around this with a handful of character relationships designed to give some insight into Sloane’s with extremely mixed results.
Chastain’s scenes with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as an idealistic crusader with a tragic past are among the best things Miss Sloane has to offer. But they’re counter-pointed with her liaisons with a local escort (Lacy) who has become besotted with her for some reason and which together offer up every ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ cliché ever devised. And they all get drawn into a mess of plot twists which induce more derision than surprise for the obviousness. In a gun-control storyline, will a gun control activist be saved by a proud gun owner? Is water wet?
Leaving aside the cockroaches or the third act reveal, which is blindingly obvious five minutes into the movie, what Miss Sloane actually has on offer is completely at odds with what it claims to be about. In worshiping at the feet of its flawed heroine, it does not take the truth of what she says and stands for through to its natural conclusions.
As with all anti-heroes, it ultimately suggests that the ends really do justify the means and that horrible tactics and a lack of ethics when used in the pursuit of a good cause is not just a good thing but a necessary one and anyone who believes otherwise is foolishly naïve. It wants to say that if someone truly does believe in their cause, any means are justified – which must include people who truly believe in repugnant things as well like extremists and terrorists.
For a film about a person with uncanny intuition, Miss Sloane doesn’t really have that level of foresight and isn’t trying to, so it’s probably not fair to tar it with real-world repercussions of its terribly-shallow ideas. But it does open the can of worms and not only does it refuse to close them, it drops a remote-controlled cockroach in for good measure.