It’s been a while since we’ve had a Washington-based political thriller, and in John Madden’s latest effort, he delivers gripping and well-executed one about a side of Washington that has been relatively under-explored in film: lobbying.
The film centres on the titular Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a ruthless workaholic lobbyist who is at the top of her field, using smart tactics (as well as sneaky ones) in order to ensure a high success rate. After she is approached to help a group oppose a bill for increased gun regulations, she turns them down in favour of representing their opposition – a small, weak firm by comparison with apparently no chance at winning. It is then that the morals of her methods come into question, resulting in a trial examining their lawfulness, that the film cuts back to throughout its running time.
As may be expected, this is a very dialogue heavy film, but Miss Sloane pulls that off expertly. The writing, direction and score all keep a great pace, ensuring that the ‘thriller’ aspect of this film is very much alive. These, combined with a sense of unpredictability, manage to create and maintain tension throughout, making it a gripping watch. Its interesting narrative structure also helps to keep you engrossed as it flits between different timelines, almost leaving you on mini-cliffhangers occasionally, and keeping you involved in the two separate battles occurring in the film.
The writing is great, and there are some stellar, stand-out lines of dialogue in here, but it also manages to maintain a level of mystique surrounding its characters, especially Miss Sloane herself. We gain glimpses into her personal life, and moments hint at the root of her motivations, especially pertaining to the issue of gun control, however it never delves into melodrama, never giving in to the temptation of an emotional tell-all scene. The lack of a full character explanation, which may frustrate some, seems to make the film stronger as it maintains a sense of integrity and grounded reality. Although arguably a little more about the person of Miss Sloane could have been shown, the lack of it allows the film to maintain its pace, and avoid potential lulls.
The main anchor of this film, however, is the powerhouse performance given by Chastain, once again proving she is one of the best actors around. She melts into the role, bringing a strength to her character and a presence that is felt every time she enters a room. Her incredible moments of subtlety also really help to flesh out the character, showing slight cracks in the driven, focused armour. Chastain brings a sense of humanity to the character but ensures she is never truly likeable; the questions of her morals mean that you are never entirely on her side, but are still captivated by her character. Chastain is supported brilliantly by the cast that surrounds her, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mark Strong as her colleagues on the campaign who each turn in very strong performances.
The film isn’t perfect, but provides an interesting insight into the world of lobbying (and the corruption that exists on both sides of the fence) and populates it with interesting characters, effective twists and turns and an avoidance of the cheesy or cliché, making it a strong entry into the political-thriller cannon.