Ever since they started putting TV previews ahead of the trailers in movies, they’ve had a strange affinity for advertising sultry, off-primetime dramas hinging on a single character. Shows like Hawthorne or The Client List, whose advertisements are simply a barrage of out-of-context maximum-drama moments from stars who could no longer make it in Hollywood. Miss Sloane mostly feels like an extended pilot for one of those shows — though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Like the series it feels akin to, the movie focuses intensely on its lead character, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a fast-talking, no-nonsense, amphetamine-popping Washington lobbyist. Sloane is hand-picked to lead the fight against a bill going through the senate that would require background checks on all gun sales, closing the infamous gun show loophole. Unexpectedly, Sloane refuses, and ends up leaving the firm and taking charge of the push to get the bill passed. Working against colleagues of several years, Sloane is staring down not only the wealthiest lobby on the hill, but a set of opponents who are intimately familiar with her tactics and vices.
Miss Sloane feels so much like a daytime drama I almost think the script was adapted from one. You’ve got the sassy main character who’s the best at her job but employs questionable methods and is a huge jerk to everyone around her. You’ve got the adorkable side characters who spend the first season in a gladiator fight for the audience’s affection, with the prize being substantial spin-off plotlines in the future. You’ve got the boss, Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), who calls the lead character into his office every episode to tell her she can’t keep treating her coworkers like this and can’t keep making such dubious decisions, but damn it Schmidt, damn it! Can’t you see she’s the only one who gets things done?
That doesn’t mean it’s bad. A lot of people like those shows. I’m told.
There are a couple of things that separate Miss Sloane from being a made-for-TV movie, one of which is the format and the other of which is its deceptive qualities as a story. Like any good daytime drama lead, Sloane is good at her job and nothing else. She abuses her coworkers, frequently visits prostitutes, and most damagingly, uses stimulants to keep herself awake 20 hours a day despite her pre-existing chronic insomnia. She’s falling apart at the seams over the course of the movie, but how and when she breaks down is where the movie gets interesting.
From scene to scene, it’s never clear whether or not Sloane will be in control or out of it, and in hindsight it remains unclear. Sometimes she’ll make harsh, snapping comments cooly, other times she’ll raise her voice to say things that were already known. Other times, she’ll seem completely out of control and even apologize for her outburst, only for that outburst to be revealed as a carefully-planned tactic. It’s hard to say if this was intentional or if it comes from Chastain playing her role differently than it was written, but it makes the movie impossible to predict and should reward subsequent viewings.
Format also alters the intent of the movie. While a show like this would be made to milk everything possible out of a faded star, the movie is intent on getting an Oscar for an actress who is well-respected, but not as prominent as she probably wants to be. Chastain getting recognized for this performance looks unlikely at this point. She’s a fine actress, but seems to excel in much subtler, lower-energy roles.
As a movie, it’s also much more grounded in the atmosphere of its release — an atmosphere where fear of lobbyists and gun control are prominent. Would this movie about a female Washington insider with a nasty streak breaking ranks to help gun regulation mean more releasing a month after Hillary Clinton being elected? That would make Miss Sloane’s handlers just another group caught with their pants down by a Trump victory.
That said, wouldn’t it have more traction releasing in the middle of the controversial election instead of well after it?
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, intern at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.