Miss Sloane and all the images you see in this review are owned by EuropaCorp
Directed by John Madden
If you really take a look at Jessica Chastain’s acting career, it becomes clear that she’s truly one of the most versatile actors working today. Not only has she been in high caliber Oscar fare of multiple genres including The Martian, Zero Dark Thirty, and Tree of Life, but she’s also been fantastic in other places like The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Crimson Peak, and Lawless. Now she’s headlining a political thriller at right about the time that EVERYONE is not in the mood to even be thinking about politics. Well, I guess we can’t blame her or the director for that, and just because the world is going straight to hell doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy movies like this anymore, right? Can this new vehicle for Jessica Chastain turn out to be another high point in her illustrious career, or will her role in that Frozen knockoff with Chris Hemsworth turn out to be her highlight this year? I mean… that WAS a really solid movie that no one but me seems to appreciate, but even so! Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the greatest lobbyist ever, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) who’s faced with a crisis of… conscious maybe? Either conscious or competitive zeal; one of those two. Anyway, the crisis is that the lobbying firm she works for wants her to campaign against a bill that would restrict gun sales to criminals, those on the terror watch list, etc, and her boss (Sam Waterson) is being a REAL overbearing jerk about it. Not one to suffer fools lightly, Miss Sloane packs up her desks, grabs the best millennial interns under her command, and goes to work for Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) who is heading the Pro-Gun restriction effort. Of course, when you bargain with the devil (or in this case someone know what it takes to win) you get exactly what you pay for and Miss Sloane proves to be INCREDIBLY effective despite how uneasy some of her methods make some of her allies, particularly Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who experiences firsthand just how far Miss Sloane is willing to go to get what she needs. Will the best of the best be able to stand up against the most funded lobby to ever exist? What can all these starry-eyed liberal babies learn by watching Miss Sloane in action? What exactly led her to being like this? Personal tragedy? A drive to succeed? Rich relatives that changed her life for the better?
This movie is REALLY frustrating as it manages to have moments of insight and brilliance, yet is undercut by the editing, structure, script, and histrionic sense of self-importance. The closest comparison here would be last year’s The Big Short which similarly had a strong message to it that was weakened by bad editing and an unfocused script, but this takes itself much more seriously than that film did which means the flaws are that much more glaring and harder to overlook. That, and honestly this movie isn’t as smart as it thinks it is nor as insightful as The Big Short was. Still, it has an absolutely killer ending which is more than I can say for a lot of movies, and a really good ending can make up for a lot of flaws the same way a bad ending can drag down an entire movie. It ultimately escapes being a bad movie by the skill of its actors and the strength of its convictions, but this isn’t the great movie that the filmmakers were hoping it would be.
The problems start right away as we’re throw into a Senate hearing of Miss Sloane for something we don’t know about and then we keep flashing black and forth between them. This might have worked if the flashback scenes had any SPECIFIC bearing on the preceding or upcoming scenes of the hearing, but they honestly come across as ways to break up the momentum of the ACTUAL story and to give us brief pauses to gather our thoughts on what had happen and what might be coming up. At least, that’s what the INTENT seems to be, but there’s never any real context to these scenes and so they come out of nowhere; accomplishing basically nothing as we STILL don’t have a damn clue what the hell her big crime was and therefore don’t have much reason to feel anxious about its outcome. Even when we aren’t cutting to the obfuscated hearing scenes, the meat of the story is still rather impenetrable as the movie makes no attempts to keep the audience in the loop as far as to what they are talking about or how important each victory is towards the overall goal. The Big Short had a similar problem and admittedly did a clunky job of rectifying it, but even without fully grasping the scenario, each scene managed to flow well because the actors compensated by going all in on the emotional reactions. We may not know what Christian Bale was spouting off about when he was listing the terms of the contracts he signed, but we got the weight of it from the befuddled swearing of the suits that put up the money for him. Stuff like that isn’t ABSENT in this movie, but so much of what happens in here feels it’s at a distance which makes it hard to care even on a surface level. The cause itself feels which (in my opinion) is a legitimate and righteous one to be fighting never feels like it MEANS anything as we very rarely see any the real life tragedies that warrant its existence. The few times we DO see something that relates to the issue itself rather than how they’re gonna fight for it are either, again, at a HUGE distance (mentions of news reports, one or two clips of people on TV crying, etc) or completely off the wall insane which we’ll get to soon enough. It’s just hard to care in this movie which is impressive considering how volatile of a subject they’re dealing with and how solid the performances are from the cast.
Now the movie isn’t all cold and calculated minutia fed to us in lingo and sarcasm. There ARE moments where the movie tries to stray outside of that, but these prove to be even worse. There’s a subplot about a prostitute who’s really bad at their job that gets WAY too much screen time, but is ultimately a giant red herring that amounts to nothing; not even as a significant aspect to our main character’s arc. There’s this REALLY odd point they make about cybernetic cockroaches (I think?) that can be used to illegally videotape people, and it feels like it’s straight out of a crappy sci-fi movie. Now it DOES serve a person as far as planting a later payoff, but you could have done this without the need for robo-cockroaches with cameras on their heads that can ALSO be controlled! Are you fucking KIDDING me!? Maybe I completely misunderstood what the hell they were saying, but to me it sounded like trained cockroaches with cybernetic enhancements. I don’t fucking know, even if it was as simple as little robotic cameras that LOOK like cockroaches, it still doesn’t add anything to this and just throws a big What The Fuck moment right in the middle of something we’re supposed to be taking seriously. Then again, with what they do with Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character, it’s debatable just how seriously we’re actually supposed to take this. I’m not gonna spoil it here, but there’s a moment with her that shakes up the entire campaign and it feels completely staged and phony to the point that I was certain a plot twist was going to happen where that was all a ploy by the pro-gun guys to get people on their side. I mean, I know we just finished talking about robotic pests, but this is still a movie that ultimately wants to be taken seriously and something like that is not what you’d see in a serious movie unless the person writing it has no idea what the hell they were doing.
So with all that, why do I still say this is a good movie, even if only barely so? Well, when this movie is firing on all cylinders, it works really well. I don’t think I liked anything in here as much as some of the scenes in The Big Short, but the dialogue is really well written and delivered by the cast who are all putting their all into the script; particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessica Chastain, and Mark Strong. The three of them form the sort of ideological message of the movie which is that a balance needs to be made between ruthless tactics (Chastain), tempered and pragmatic progress (Strong), and never losing sight of HOW you go about reaching your goals is just as important as reaching them (Mbatha-Raw). Now PERSONALLY, I’m probably mostly in the Chastain and Strong camps (results are the most important aspect and we need to be intelligent about reaching them) and while the movie CLEARLY wants us to side with Gugu’s unwavering moral compass, it at least acknowledges the uphill and extremely dirty path that it takes to make any changes in this country. On top of all that, and what is easily the best part, I REALLY liked the ending. Now sure, it IS a bit of fantasy that things worked out in JUST the right way for this sucker punch of a twist to happen, but it’s immensely satisfying to see and the movie did a fantastic job leaving clues throughout to lead us to this final twist of fate for our main character. Maybe the movie won’t hold up as well a second time since the big ending won’t be as delightfully surprising, but it certainly saved it the first time around.
If nothing else, this movie shines a damn strong light on what it was that made The Big Short work so well and, on a much more macro level, how to tell a story about something that is inherently granular and overly complex for the average viewer. Could this have worked if it was more of a comedy? Perhaps, but that’s only part of the problem. The movie is missing a heart. It’s missing a sense of humanity as everything is dealt with at such a disconnected level that there’s nothing for us to grab onto like The Big Short’s eccentric cast of expressive characters or the fact that what everyone in there is talking about is the biggest economic disaster since The Great Depression. I just didn’t feel nearly enough in this movie to justify the flaws in terms of scripting, editing, and focus the same way that The Big Short managed to wrap me up in its world despite itself. Still, there’s just enough good here that it is worth seeing. Certainly not at the theater, but when it hits home release (which will definitely be after the apocalypse, AKA Inauguration Day) it’ll be worth at least checking out if you really do believe in what this movie has to say about fighting for what’s right with every tool in your belt. Just… maybe have something else to be working on whenever the film gets off track.
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