Thursday, December 8, 2016
The political drama Miss Sloane fails to lobby us into Oscar territory.
Review by Matt CummingsIn a time when women were supposed to be leading our country, Miss Sloane arrives to remind us of what could have been. Unfortunately, this message about a headstrong female Washington lobbyist loses us early with an unappealing director, a paper-thin plot, and suffers from a ton of convenient realism. If the good (but not impressive) performances weren't there to buffer these and many other gaps, we might have found ourselves voting for impeachment. For Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), life is about getting her clients what they want from the halls of Congress. Her boss Dupont (Sam Waterston) will sleep with NRA types, fudge travel records, and bully smaller firms into submission if it means a hearty paycheck at day's end. But when Sloane leaves the company to push Gun Control legislation with one of those smaller firms, Dupont turns to his bulldog Connor (the suddenly all-over-the-place Michael Stuhlbarg) to topple said legislation and ruin his former employee. What Sloane's new boss (Mark Strong) doesn't know is that deep down her new lobbyist is a mess: she's a pill-popper, ungrateful to employees like Esma (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and can only find meaningful connection with a gigilo (Jake Lacy). Determined to win at all costs, Sloane will travel a dark road of lies, manipulation and brinksmanship, struggling to prove that her abrasive personality does offer a shred of humanity to one of our country's most hot-button topics. The problems begin early for Miss Sloane and continue to drag the film down into its less-than-appealing third act. There's never a sense of danger or even intrigue, with the center of attention focusing on Sloane as the Senate's investigation against her ramps up. But getting to that point takes some patience, as we're thrust into story lines that aren't critical to the outcome. The worst of these involves the Lacy subplot, which is supposed to humanize Sloane but only puffs out 10 minutes of unneeded story. These exchanges offer us few insights into her MO, short of us learning that she had to lie a lot as a child. Miss Sloane also stumbles to teach us the ins-and-outs of Gun Control, relying on the mundane relation of facts instead of pressure-cooking the topic and throwing our actors into the broth. And while some degree of knowledge is gained, the results are never satisfying, instead serving as a plot device with no moral anchors for us to latch on. And in so doing, Miss Sloane fails to tell the most important story of all, that of the titular character. This should be a frank lesson about a frosty woman with people issues watching her career succumb to a firestorm, but instead her treatment of others draws them in like a hapless stooge. Among the worst of these character violations is the way Mbatha-Raw's Esme is treated almost like a pawn in a chess game, ready to be reminded of her dark past by the white queen. When Sloane attempts to assuage her terror in an airport afterwards, it's like Tony Stark trying to talk to Peter Parker in Civil War; but there Stark's lack of humanity comes off as insanely comical. Here, we realize that Sloane has been purged of all human skills, thanks to Writer Jonathan Perera's limp script. It's as if he and Director John Madden forgot how people really work, that Sloane's almost clinical approach to her employees isn't going to make her more successful but just more hated. That plays itself out consistently against the character, especially when it's learned that she's working for Schmidt Pro Bono. There's no explanation as to why, and no incentive for us to stick around to see how it affects her. When the witch hunt in front of the Senate starts, a potentially cool reveal just makes Sloane look like she's protecting her own tainted image, rather than wrestling her former employers down because of their shady business dealings. It's that kind of convenient realism that gets tossed out when the script needs a kick in the pants. Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.