Let’s talk about Miss Sloane, the character first. She’s not nice. In fact, she’s a pill-popping insomniac who eats at the same Washington Ramen noodle joint every night because it spares her the pain of having company. She deals with her sexual needs by hiring male escorts who are proud of their abs and “skill sets.”
She talks tough and acts tougher. She’s always one step ahead of the opposition – even when she’s her own worst enemy. She is widely known as the most effective lobbyist in Washington, the one you call when you want to make sure Indonesian Palm Oil gets into America in sufficient quantity to keep the Nutella coming.
Her formal education was clearly spotty. She doesn’t, for instance, understand how Socrates got so famous when he didn’t write anything. (The idea of Plato, as ancient world history’s greatest lobbyist, doesn’t occur to her.) Her own lawyer in front of a Senate investigating committee calls her profession “the most morally bankrupt profession extant.” She, on the other hand, likes to explain that she never takes on a client she doesn’t believe in.
Now let’s look at “Miss Sloane” the movie. It’s about what happens when Miss Sloane, the character, takes on two big causes a lot of people believe in – gun control and the dismantling of Washington corruption. (Never mind the candidate who promised to “drain the swamp.” “Miss Sloane,” the movie, goes to great lengths to be plausible which puts it at a disadvantage over reality.)
The bad news about “Miss Sloane” the movie is that it spends its entire first half being little more than a well-dressed version of a good modern TV show – a small step up from “Scandal” and “Designated Survivor” but directed by John Madden, a British pro who is no stranger to prestige productions. (“Shakespeare in Love.” Prestigious enough for you?)
The good news is that after all the coagulated plot at the beginning, the tempo picks up and all the loose plot points hit the fan. By that time, it has gotten us ready for a snappy and unexpected finale.
Jessica Chastain plays Miss Sloane, the stone-crushing lobbyist who always puts causes ahead of human feelings. The dark and authoritative Brit Mark Strong plays her boss at the “boutique” lobbying firm that hires her away from the giant lobbying firm that made her reputation.
Alison Pill plays the sweet-faced young blonde assistant who can’t possibly be as corrupt as she seems to be, can she?
The corrupt Washington guys guilty of the hideous crime of being older than anyone else in the cast are played by John Lithgow and Sam Waterston.
Once you get past the early parts that seem to be crashing into sped-up TV plotting, “Miss Sloane” turns into a racily written Washington fantasy.
Not exactly Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” or Preminger’s “Advise and Consent” but a nice, time-passing way to watch as Washington corruption turns itself inside out for our edification. Some of the lines have real juice.
There’s a lot to admire here:
1) As Miss Sloane, the character, Chastain never really becomes sympathetic. She starts off a self-congratulatory sledgehammer and stays that way.
2) Mark Strong, as the “good guy” is just as proficient at betraying friends as Miss Sloane.
3) The male escort’s “skill set” includes his own deftly screwed up version of occupational ethics (which should have been explored a bit more).
4) Not a second is wasted on giving Miss Sloane a sympathetic backstory – no childhood puppies to make her weep over the travails of living creatures. She remains completely unexplained and cold as ice. Except, of course, for the one moment in the film when everything goes kerflooey and she screamingly throws a table full of important papers to the floor. Even then, the audience was the only one to see her do it.
As a movie, it’s as pitilessly efficient as a law being passed to maintain the efficient manufacture of Nutella.
It’s minor but tasty.
3 stars (Out of four)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, and Sam Waterston. Directed by John Madden. 132 minutes. Rated R for language and sex.