Times of Malta ‒ The sleazy side of politics

Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane.

Miss Sloane
4 stars
Director: John Madden
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Rawr
Duration: 132 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

We’ve all heard the terms ‘lobby’ in politics-speak – the tobacco lobby, gun lobby, anti-abortion lobby, and so on – but what is it exactly that a lobbyist does?

Lobbyists are people who make a lucrative living by influencing decision makers and members of government around the world. They are people whose clout has no bounds, whose reach stretches to the higher echelons of power.

The origin of the term is unclear, although some say it was coined by President Ulysses S. Grant (in office from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877) in reference to representative of various special interests waiting to speak to him in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, where he often was to be found.

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is one such lobbyist. A player at the top of the lobbying game in Washington DC, she has a brilliant mind, a determined attitude and a ruthless approach to her job – and she will do anything to deliver what her clients want. Sloane lives and breathes her job.

Unflinching in its accurate take on the sleazy side of politics

Eyebrows are raised when Sloane turns down the very power­ful gun lobby who want her on board to convince women to oppose a Bill that will impose new regulations on gun sales. Eyebrows continue to rise when she joins the other side, choosing to leave her firm to join a fledgling company that represents the backers of the law.

Although she is fully aware that she is fighting a losing battle, Sloane puts all her efforts into winning. Yet her unparalleled hunger for victory comes at huge personal and professional cost.

Miss Sloane is at once a character study and political drama, taking a fascinating look at the often secretive comings and goings of the lobbying world. It is unflinching in its accurate take on the sleazy side of politics as the issues get pushed to the side and battle lines are drawn on a personal level between the protagonists (like we don’t have enough of that right now…).

Fans of classic TV show The West Wing will recognise the backdrop, and newbie scriptwriter Jonathan Perera must have been one such fan. He has imbued his script with sharp and witty dialogue, while setting the scene with detailed and intelligible exposition of the often-murky world of the lobbyist.

Perera is equally spot on with the characterisation, as epitomised by the eponymous anti-hero as she steadily marches towards her objective using fair means and foul. She builds up and destroys people in the process – friends and foes alike – unparalleled in her knowledge of the game, unconcerned by the fallout from her actions.

It is yet another compelling performance by Jessica Chastain, one of the most exciting actors working in Hollywood today.

Yet Chastain does not merely paint a superb portrait of a ‘strong female character’. She nails the unapologetic and, it must be said, often unlikable traits of a woman whose actions are a hair’s breadth away from being criminal.

At the same time, she offers just enough of a hint of compassion to make her a complex and emotional human being – as witnessed most strongly with her interactions with Ford, (Jake Lacy) a male escort who can see through her with accurate insight while at the same time proving to be her only real friend when Sloane’s life comes crashing down around her.

Chastain commands the screen with consummate ease from the outset, no mean feat given she is on screen pretty much most of the time.

She is matched with a strong ensemble, including Mark Strong as her new boss, a moral man with whom she constantly locks horns over her questionable methods; and Gugu Mbatha Raw as the principled, idealistic Esme Manucharian, a young lobbyist whose speciality is gun safety.

Esme is the heart of the story, a woman who becomes Sloane’s new protégée, a relationship that she comes to regret.

It’s a compelling film, one that offers enough intrigue to keep the audience on their toes. And although there is one twist as proceedings draw to a close (that I must admit I saw coming) there is a surprising turn of events that hint that Ms Sloane may not be as unprincipled as she appears to be.

Still, to its credit, the film eschews sentimentality in its pretty realistic view of proceedings.