[NOTE: This is a re-post of our original review from the AFI Film Festival; Miss Sloane hits theaters this Thanksgiving weekend].
When I was at the premiere of Steve Jobs at last year’s Telluride Film Festival an audience member shouted “Sor-kin!” after a motor-mouthed and highly intelligent monologue from Michael Fassbender. It’s clear that modern dialogue-driven screenplays are molded in the Aaron Sorkin fashion the same way that Quentin Tarantino was the template of the 90s. From parodies to first original screenplays, Sorkin’s rat-a-tat monologue approach to screenwriting—that’s chock full of allegories and daggers, typically delivered to a boardroom of intelligent people who also respond intelligently and quickly—is the most imitated scripting process of the moment. Add Jonathan Perera’s Miss Sloane script to the list of imitators.
Jessica Chastain has the Sorkin-fingerprinted and dagger-tongued careerist role in Sloane and she obviously relishes it. As a Washington DC lobbyist, Chastain spouts off Senator voting facts, religious jokes with bible quotes and insults at coworkers in lightning speed. She’s fierce, composed, hopped up on uppers and always worth your attention. But she’s also undone by a third act countermove that’s opposite everything we’ve witnessed from her character.
Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is the most feared lobbyist in Washington, DC—but she’s not a bloodthirsty jackal. When the gun lobby comes to her firm and pitches their idea on how to get women interested in guns she outright laughs at them. Hearing that she turned down the account, the head of the firm (Mark Strong) that’s repping the pro gun regulation bill that will soon be voted on in the Senate approaches her to join their team. Sloane takes five young upstarts from her old staff and braces herself to face off against the firm she’s leaving. Committed to win, Sloane finds a face for the gun control movement in a survivor of a 1998 Indiana school shooting (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The oppositional lobby’s A-team includes Sorkin alums Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Sam Waterston.
Miss Sloane ideologically doesn’t take a stance on gun control. It even features an actual mythical good guy with a gun who’s always mentioned in NRA arguments! (It’s a pretty ridiculous scene). Instead, Miss Sloane takes a stance on lobbyists having way too much influence on Capitol Hill. Sure, Sloane is fighting for gun control but there are very few discussions of talking points, just counterpunches to the methods of the oppositional firm’s career threats to various Senators. And both sides show nefarious methods to get Senators on board, so those who clutch the second amendment shouldn’t have much to get worked up about; the only debate is given by both sides.
At 132 minutes, Miss Sloane is far too long for a film that ultimately just wants to pull the rug from underneath you. The dialogue is quick and Max Richter’s score attempts to guide the film through some breakneck twists and turns but the pacing feels slow because the shot selection is fairly static and unimaginative. Unlike Danny Boyle or David Fincher were able to do with their Sorkin-scripted films, director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) can’t find an interesting visual way to add to the talky script. And ultimately too much happens in Sloane to feel authentic. But Chastain is revelatory and that’s the film’s biggest selling point.
Despite the bloated runtime and lack of character development for anyone who’s name isn’t the title of the movie, Miss Sloane will resonate with those who were exhausted by the Congressional scandals of 2016 that emphasized the circus of a hearing over the quality of the evidence. And ultimately, Miss Sloane is a surprisingly timely crowd-pleaser because—regardless of the political aisle you sit on—we’re all upset at the control lobbyists have in skewing votes on key issues, regardless of public opinion.
How Chastain’s Elizabeth Sloane takes on an opposing lobbying group is something that will probably make you cheer in 2016. But at any other moment in history it’d have to be called an over-plotted and sometimes silly political thriller that features a great central performance from one of our greatest actresses of this generation. Timing is Miss Sloane’s trump card. And there’s nothing wrong with a fist pump at the movie theater right now—even though you’ll poke holes in it on the ride home.