Having spent over a decade living and working in Washington, D.C., I can tell you that “Miss Sloane” gets a lot right, especially when it comes to the “good old boys” network that is Capitol Hill and the absolutely spot-on portrayals of lobbyists and think tank managers. It’s accurate in its fantasy — and I don’t know if that’s something that should scare me even more than it already does.
Jessica Chastain steps into the shoes of the ruthless Miss Sloane, a no-nonsense, overworked, calculating and unwaveringly devoted political power lobbyist. She blurs the lines between fact, fiction, and ethics, but she never loses. When she finds herself fighting for background checks on the opposing side of a huge gun lobby, her opponents embark on a bureaucratic witch hunt to destroy her career.
This story sounds like something that could be ripped from the headlines and it works as a satisfying, intelligent, adult political thriller for the most part. A few components of the story feel contrived, phony, and borderline campy, periodically making the film come across as sort of a muzzled version of “House of Cards.” At times I was thinking how awesome I’d love to see Miss Sloane take on Claire Underwood in a live t.v. debate. Talk about the fight of the century! Chastain’s performance is terrific; she gives equity to near despicableness as well as real, human empathy. Yes, I cared about her while simultaneously despising her.
The supporting performances are fantastic and authentic too, with John Lithgow (Sperling) as a Congressman who is forcibly coerced into an uncomfortable situation; Mark Strong (Rodolfo) as the “hippie in a suit” boss at a smaller, do-gooder lobbying firm; Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Esme) as an emotionally abused assistant and awkward sometimes-friend; and Jake Lacy as a charming midnight cowboy (Ford). Some of the best scenes in the film are the ones between Lacy and Chastain not only because of their undeniable chemistry, but because the scenes aren’t overwritten.
Everything gets a little too hokey towards the end, when countless twists and turns and plot surprises come thrashing out of nowhere, all hitting the audience at once. But this is a go-for-broke type of movie, and its messiness is welcomed as a work of art that manages to be both a criticism and a celebration of our broken political system — and the real deal makers and back slappers who keep the engine humming. Checkmate.