Cinematic Releases: Miss Sloane (2016) - Reviewed

English director John Madden (not to be confused with the former football player of the same name) got very lucky in 1998 when his historical fiction film Shakespeare in Love proved immensely popular at the box office before winning seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Since then however, beyond his The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, he has yet to achieve critical and commercial success on that level again.  After seeing his latest offering, the soapy pseudo-Aaron Sorkin-esque gun control drama Miss Sloane with Jessica Chastain, we’re likely to go on waiting for another home run let alone find reason to continue paying attention to this director.  

Starring Chastain in the same strong willed and fierce female role she played in Zero Dark Thirty and Interstellar, Elizabeth Sloane is a sharp, cunning and often devious Washington D.C. lobbyist who defects from her current employer to spearhead a forthcoming gun control bill.  Part character study of a dysfunctional go-getter, part didactic message movie about the 2nd Amendment, it’s a film that starts off reasonably well before completely jumping the shark in the third act without looking back.  Not since the comparatively better Gus Van Sant misfire The Sea of Trees has a film with a head on its shat the bed so hard as it goes off the rails into silly melodrama.

Simply put, this fast talking self-important political thriller has all the ingredients for a solid White House lobbying drama but squanders the tense and dedicated performances by Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow and Sam Waterston on a ridiculous script that’s beneath the talents of all involved with the project.  Chastain is good, yes, but she is only channeling the same character she did in other movies with minor deviation from prior roles.  That said, she’s about the only reason to continue watching this movie, as the rest of the talented cast members are wasted on a mediocre script.

As if in a race to the finish line, everyone talks faster than your average Sorkin movie with a fraction of that screenwriter’s wit and teeth gnashing.  Thinking on the same level as say The Architect concluding The Matrix Reloaded, Chastain and her fellow cast members fire off the heated dialogue by first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera with veiny throats and wrinkled foreheads like no tomorrow while missing what made Sorkin’s screenplays so compelling even when they commit as many contrivances, if not more, as Miss Sloane does.  Just because we hear a lot of words said with fierce conviction doesn’t mean it amounts to anything even with a stylist as talented as Madden behind the camera.  

My dad went to space and never came back. 

Visually the film is solid and handsomely shot by Sebastian Blenkov but the score by Max Richter is overwrought with far too many scenes of the dramatic strings rising in volume whenever Chastain goes on another epic rant.  What’s more, the soundtrack and ultimately the film itself want the viewers to get behind this devious manipulator’s cause which upon reflection doesn’t amount to much more than self-righteous tree hugging.  After two hours of all the back and forth double-crossing, twists and turns with numerous surprises that only get sillier as the movie goes on with the so-called “Robo Roach” and a mole served up as pivotal plot points, we can’t help but throw our hands up in dismay as both the film’s protagonist and the film itself seem to lose sight of the finish line.  That said, I’ll concede Jessica Chastain is still a confident and gifted actress worth paying attention to, just not in this one.


- Andrew Kotwicki