Miss Sloane (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): By Any Means Necessary

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It is always entertaining to watch smart people doing their job well, and the heroine of “Miss Sloane” is one of such good cases. While we are amazed or horrified by how far she is willing to go for getting her job done, she is a fascinating human character to observe nonetheless, and the movie is firmly anchored by the top-notch lead performance at its center. We do not exactly like her, but we cannot help but wonder how she will deal with her increasingly difficult circumstance, and the movie provides enough thrill and suspense to compensate for its rather conventional plot.

Jessica Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, one of the most prominent lobbyists working in Washington D.C. After the opening sequence which gives us a glimpse of what will possibly happen to her in the end, the movie moves back to when she was supervising her latest lobbying job several months ago. As she relentlessly pushes herself and others around her, it is clear to us that she is the smartest person in the room, and Chastain exudes intense intelligence and authority as her character holds the attention of everyone else in the room.

While that lobbying job is about to be successfully finished, Sloane’s boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) arranges a meeting between her and Bob Sanford (Chuck Shamata), a representative from some powerful gun manufacturing association (the movie never mentions its name although we can clearly see that it is a fictional version of National Rifle Association). Sanford wants to block a recently proposed gun-control bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases, and he wants Sloane to handle the opposing campaign against that gun-control bill because of Sloane’s impeccable success record.

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However, Sloane flatly rejects Sanford’s request because she is not against gun-control, and then she goes farther than that when she is later approached by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), the CEO of a modest lobbying firm who is preparing for the campaign for that gun-control bill. After having a brief conversation with Schmidt, she leaves her firm on the very next day for moving to Schmidt’s firm, and some of the people working under her are persuaded to go along with her although her chance of win is slim to say the least. Besides their enormous financial source, Dupont and Sanford can pull many strings around numerous politicians in Washington D.C., and there are also Jane Molloy (Alison Pill) and Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), Sloane’s former co-workers who know Sloane enough to be her match.

Because of these formidable opponents of hers, Sloane is ready to use any tactic deemed to be necessary in her view, and this makes Schmidt and others in his firm quite uncomfortable. At one point, Sloane successfully finds a spy in Schmidt’s firm, but Schmidt is deeply upset by her clandestine method, and then there comes a crucial moment when Sloane deliberately pushes one of her new co-workers into media spotlight just for gaining more strategic advantage.

As Sloane keeps going further by any means necessary, the screenplay by Jonathan Perera never makes any excuse for its heroine, and neither does Chastain, who has been one of the most interesting actresses of our time since her sudden breakthrough in 2011 via several movies including “The Tree of Life” (2011), “The Help” (2011), and “Take Shelter” (2011). Filled with fierce, steely determination which reminds me of her Oscar-nominated performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), Chastain goes all the way as embodying her character’s strong and weak points, and she never loses the edgy, abrasive sides of her character while subtly conveying her character’s humanity to us. There is an eventual moment as Sloane faces the consequence from deceiving and manipulating her opponents as well as people working with her, but she knows she must go on while never looking back, and Chastain is simply captivating as her character steadily maintains her firm façade in spite of accumulating pressure on her.

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Under the director John Madden’s competent direction, the movie smoothly goes from one narrative point to another, and I enjoyed it on the whole even though I could clearly see through the plot from the very beginning. I think the finale is a little too neat, but Chastain makes it work despite that minor flaw, and I will not deny that I found myself more involved in her character’s situation than expected.

The movie is basically Chastain’s show, and the notable supporting performers around Chastain fill their roles as required. Mark Strong and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are Sloane’s less jaded colleagues, and Mbatha-Raw is particularly good when her character comes to feel far wearier of Sloane than before. Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Chuck Shamata, Christine Baranski, Jake Lacy, Dylan Baker, and Sam Waterston are also effective in their respective roles, and the special mention goes to John Lithgow, who is solid as a senator prepared to ruin Sloane’s career once for all as demanded.

Compared to many other recent political thriller films and TV series “House of Cards”, “Miss Sloane” does not bring anything new to its genre except its strong female protagonist, but it is still an entertaining film mainly thanks to Chastain’s terrific performance. Again, she does not disappoint us at all, and she surely gives us a piece of work to watch.

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