“Miss Sloane” looks at the sausage­mak­ing of leg­is­la­tion

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Pat Padua

6665 Drama. R. 129 min­utes.

In Wash­ing­ton, there may be no more loathed pro­fes­sion than that of the lob­by­ist. The po­lit­i­cal thriller “Miss Sloane” paints a cyn­i­cal be­hindthe-scenes pic­ture of the great lengths to which paid ad­vo­cates will go to ad­vance a cause. But even if you ad­mire the drive of its ti­tle char­ac­ter, El­iz­a­beth Sloane, a sought-af­ter lob­by­ist played with cool fe­roc­ity by Jes­sica Chas­tain, you may not ad­mire the means she uses to achieve her goals.

The film sug­gests — gasp! — that some lob­by­ists may not even be­lieve in the causes they’re paid to es­pouse. Framed by a con­gres­sional hear­ing that pits El­iz­a­beth against Sen. Ron Sper­ling (John Lith­gow), the movie back­tracks to find how the lob­by­ist got there.

Turn­ing down a high­pro­file of­fer from the gun lobby to ad­vance its Sec­ond Amend­ment agenda, El­iz­a­beth leaves her pres­ti­gious firm to work with Rodolfo Sch­midt (Mark Strong), the head of a bou­tique lob­by­ing firm try­ing to get a bill passed to man­date back­ground checks for all gun sales. Sch­midt as­sumes that her re­jec­tion of the gun lobby comes from per­sonal con­vic­tions, but she may sim­ply thrive on the chal­lenge of a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble task: to con­vince enough con­gress­men to vote for the bill so that it reaches the fil­i­buster-proof num­ber of 60 sup­port­ers.

Com­pe­ti­tion drives El­iz­a­beth, whether the is­sue is the im­por­ta­tion of palm oil or the preva­lence of gun vi­o­lence. The movie re­volves around the maxim that the lob­by­ist, “can’t only be­lieve in their abil­ity to win,” yet Sloane ap­pears driven by the prospect of vic­tory more than by her con­vic­tions, ex­ploit­ing Esme (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her most de­voted em­ployee, to score points.

The cen­tral fig­ure of “Miss Sloane” is a re­mark­ably strong woman, but the film seems to equate lob­by­ists with mer­ce­nar­ies, and worse, with pros­ti­tutes. This point is driven home by the male es­cort (Jake Lacy) that Sloane, too busy to date, meets with for reg­u­lar trysts. (Nat­u­rally, the fig­ure turns into an ex­plo­sive lit­er­ary de­vice, primed to go off at the most dra­mat­i­cally con­ve­nient mo­ment. Chekhov fa­mously cau­tioned against in­tro­duc­ing a gun into a story, un­less the writer planned to use it. The same ap­plies to gigo­los.)

Jonathan Per­era’s dense script hints at the rapid­fire bite of Aaron Sorkin, but with­out the hu­mor. With the help of deft edit­ing and a some­times fran­tic elec­tronic score, di­rec­tor John Mad­den (“Shake­speare in Love”) turns this story of back­room machi­na­tions into a moder­ately en­ter­tain­ing thriller.

While Sloane’s bag of tricks in­cludes me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tion, “Miss Sloane” leaves one in­trigu­ing ques­tion un­ad­dressed: Are movies like “Miss Sloane” them­selves a po­ten­tial tool in the lob­by­ists’ reper­toire? This taut po­lit­i­cal thriller, set amid the soul­less of­fice ar­chi­tec­ture of K Street, has an os­ten­si­bly lib­eral bent, but its an­ti­heroine’s Machi­avel­lian meth­ods turn the film’s sub­ject away from its cause, por­tray­ing lob­by­ists and politi­cians in a dark light.

Kerry Hayes, Europa

Jes­sica Chas­tain stars in “Miss Sloane.”

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