Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a lobbyist – one who will do anything to win even at the expense of her own career.
When her boss (Sam Waterston) orders her to “start getting women into guns,” she quits his behemoth of a firm to run the gun control campaign being waged by a ‘boutique’ firm.
We meet Miss Sloane as she’s sitting in a congressional hearing before cutting to earlier – the point at which she is wooed by a big cheese in the NRA (Chuck Shamata) before slashing his ideas to ribbon prompting her boss’ explosion – and her departure, with her team (minus Alison Pill’s steely protégé, Janey) to take up positions with the aforementioned boutique firm headed by Rodolpho Schmidt (Mark Strong).
From there, all the political machinations, no matter how brutal, are used to build the character of Miss Sloane – who puts winning above almost everything else: social life (she take of her physical needs with a hunky escort played by Jake Lacy), sleep, or even building business relationships.
Very occasionally, she’ll take on campaign because she actually believes in it and this is one of those. How she goes about it – setting up a survivor of a high school massacre, Esmé (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on her team – confirms everything we’ve heard about and seen her do up to this point: she’s the Queen Bitch of lobbyists and to defy her is to step into the whirlwind.
Details like the efforts to sway a certain numbers to support the gun control bill; the introduction of her unofficial team (a former NSA guy; a former CIA guy, etc.) that’s expert in surveillance; all coming after she explodes in Mr. NRA Big Shot’s face, gives a picture of a character who will, in most cases, lobby for anything – good or bad. Until she won’t.
In terms of plotting, Miss Sloane is convoluted but the convolutions are there to set off the efforts of Sloane and her counterpart at the firm she left, one Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg) – someone as tough and smart as her, but without even the vestiges of a conscience.
When Janey finds cause to force her into that congressional Hearing – before a Senator Ron M. Sperling (John Lithgow) – we’ve seen how we was recruiting for task by Conners’ boss, George Dupont (Waterston).
There’s a point when someone who needs to be known for confidentiality has a chance to do her damage in the hearing but the writer, Jonathan Perera, and director, John Madden, are smart enough to go for obvious play. In fact, there are many places where Miss Sloane could have been utterly conventional and chose not to go there.
One of the film’s biggest flaws is its dialogue. Aaron Sorkin it’s not – but because of the carefully chosen actors who deliver it with such conviction, it doesn’t really take anyone out of the movie.
Still, the cast – and especially Chastain – are terrific enough to overcome the dialogue problem and keep the spiffily plotted film feeling alive.
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