John Madden’s Miss Sloane is a ferocious star vehicle for Jessica Chastain, both richly enjoyable for the opportunity it affords Chastain and as an antidote to the end of our political year. The actress stars as a cutthroat lobbyist in Washington going up against the gun lobby in one of the most entertaining films of the year, a chicken soup for the angry soul with more nutrition than its soapier moments suggest. As Chastain’s Sloane collects crossed boundaries like trading cards and finds little that isn’t expendable for the sake of the win, the film satisfies in the ways all those current political television dramas are supposed to and rarely do.
The most intriguing piece of Miss Sloane is the central character’s unpredictable and sometimes contradictory moral compass. This film is not the trite, easy character study of a righteous liberal crusader or noble do-gooder, quite the opposite in fact. The primary motivator for Sloane as she eviscerates opposition and allies alike is ego and self-satisfaction. Neither is she all monster, with deeper personal struggles bubbling to the surface and even occasionally hindering her perceptions. The joy of seeing such the rare complicated and successful female character is only deliciously complicated by Sloane not being what we would expect from this type of film.
And Chastain aces it. It’s not just entertaining to watch her sink her teeth into sinking her teeth into others, but the actress comes equipped with muscular implacability that’s more than scenery chewing. Even at her most vulnerable, Chastain stays rooted in a tough humanity that makes her performance honest and never simply defined. You could watch a damn franchise of her in this role.
Aside from Chastain’s complexity, what also keeps the crackling script from becoming mannered Sorkin-lite soap opera is an equally adept ensemble surrounding her. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Allison Pill go toe-to-toe with her, the contentiousness shaded with care and foiled attempts at understanding. Her opposition (Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, and Sam Waterston) underestimate her and read her pitfalls perfectly in turn, but never reduce to mustache-twirling villains. Our favorite movie boyfriend Jake Lacy is Sloane’s high-end hooker Ford, finding chemistry with his romantic pairing as gracefully as ever. Much is gained from making the relationships of Sloane and her circle as intricate as the woman herself.
With plenty of bite and memorable moments, Miss Sloane is instantly rewatchable. Its straightforward confidence and room for detail makes for a satisfying experience above its staid exterior and movements. Bending to Jessica Chastain’s fascinating versatility, it’s a mainstream showcase that’s become treacherously uncommon.