“Miss Sloane” looks at the sausagemaking of legislation
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.
Jessica Chastain stars in “Miss Sloane.”