What starts out as a fast-paced character study of a D.C. lobbyist in Miss Sloane, slows to a slog through the same swamp Democrats and Republicans have been shouting about for the past 18 months. It isn't a bad movie--Miss Sloane even has moments, particularly near the end, when it leans toward greatness.
Jessica Chastain plays the not-very-nice Elizabeth Sloane. At the beginning of her story, we discover Miss Sloane is a ruthless, conservative, pro-gun lobbyist who jumps political ship to join a left-leaning lobbying group taking on the right-wing group she just left. Ultimately, all that is left of Miss Sloane is her ruthlessness.
With someone as skilled as Chastain inside the skin of Elizabeth Sloane, you know you're in for some first-rate acting and, as expected, this film sits on Chastain's padded shoulders. Already nominated twice for an Oscar, Miss Sloane has again put Chastain on many critics' short lists for a Best Actress nod. Chastain reportedly spent time shadowing a dozen D.C. lobbyists—11 of them women—on Capitol Hill in preparation for Miss Sloane. She returned to the nation's capital days before the presidential election to preview her film, telling the audience, "My greatest hope for this film is that it inspires women to really step forward." Director John Madden, who previously directed Chastain in 2010's The Debt (a great, overlooked film), said the story of Miss Sloane "was predicated on the idea of the surprise."
Few were prepared for this past Election Day surprise, which catapulted Donald Trump to the presidency and somehow made Miss Sloane woefully out of sync and out of touch with the new political climate that shut out what would have been our nation's first female commander-in-chief. Days after the election, at the Nov. 11 premiere of Miss Sloane, Chastain was beside herself.
"It's a nightmare," she said from the red carpet. "Right here, talking about this right now, it's not the best experience."
Therein lies the problem with Miss Sloane: It attempts to unwind as a taut, political thriller with a rather unlikeable character and despicable motivations at its core. Worse yet, it's left-leaning, heavy-handedness does Miss Sloane's noble cause an injustice.
The film's greatest weakness is that it slips into cliche, employs a gaggle of character actors in one-dimensional roles, and tries too often to emulate the walking-and-talking genre perfected by Aaron Sorkin in TV's The West Wing or his Oscar-nominated biopic, Steve Jobs.
While it's nearly tolerable to watch Chastain portray what President-elect Trump might dub a "nasty woman," Miss Sloane's particular penchant for verbally shaming her opponents is too stark a reminder of what our nation endured during the past 18 months. Miss Sloane's arguments weren't wrong, but they are unnerving nonetheless. Sadly, this film exploits what divides us as a nation, and while there may be reality in that, I can think of a dozen other ways to spend two hours this holiday season.