From acclaimed director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) comes a hot-button political thriller starring Jessica Chastain (Thirty Dark Zero, The Martian) that’s sure to get a lot of people talking – including people on a certain academy. Gun control is a never-ending topic of discussion around the country and the world at large, so it was probably inevitable that a wide-release feature film would tackle the issue. To get one that tackles it so intelligently and in such an entertaining fashion is icing on the cake.
This movie is going to be divisive. To some degree, that should be expected anytime a film delves as deeply into a political topic as controversial as gun control. On the other hand, I would hope that, if anybody, at least the critics could separate personal beliefs from professional responsibility in order to view the film objectively as a piece of art, but that’s not what I’m necessarily seeing. Sure, many of them are. But many of them aren’t.
The truth is that the film presents both sides of the issue and if anyone is taken to task for how and why they pursue their given stance on the issue, it’s political lobbyists, not civilians. The story itself is told from the perspective of Chastain’s Elizabeth Sloane. Sloane doesn’t see herself as a conservative or as a liberal. She sees herself as a warrior who lusts for a challenge. She’s brilliant – both in general and at her job – and that necessitates that she be intelligent enough to know right from wrong. But that isn’t necessarily her motivation. And if what’s “right” doesn’t fit into her strategy and/or her own professional interests, she’s not below opting for “wrong”.
One of the highlights of the film is that it’s not exclusively political and takes the time to establish meaningful relationships for Sloane. Even if said relationships are developed fairly quickly in order to keep the main narrative flowing, they’re also developed efficiently, so that they matter to the audience.
Of course, that means that the characters involved in these relationships matter, as well. The cast is a dream come true. Chastain gives the performance of a lifetime, nailing the big moments, but persisting in the small ones, as well. She’s natural and she’s real and she’s raw. You know you should hate her, but you can’t help but admire her diligence, resolve, and craftiness. From my perspective, Chastain provides the best female performance of the year, so far. It’s a little early to declare that she should outright be winning any awards, this season, but I’ll be disappointed if she isn’t at least nominated.
Aside from Chastain, I’d like to give special mentions to Alison Pill and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Pill plays the pivotal role of Jane Molloy, Sloane’s former ally turned adversary. I recently mentioned that her career should be on the rise and she shows exactly why in Miss Sloane. I’ll let you discover her for yourself. Mbatha-Raw has been an underappreciated and underutilized talent for years, now (recently seen in Concussion and Free State of Jones), and she truly gets to shine, here, as Sloane’s contemporary, Esme Manucharian. She’s the heart of the film, keeping it grounded and serving as the audience surrogate in a film full of characters who are hard to relate to for the average moviegoer. And she shines.
Ultimately, Miss Sloane is a film about conscience. It’s not only about leaders having a conscience when they run their respective countries, but it’s about everyday citizens making everyday decisions in their everyday lives – decisions that often come down to doing things the easy (or easier) way or the conscientious way, and whether the ends ever truly justify the means. In getting that idea across, Miss Sloane is a quick-talking, fast-moving, deep-thinking thriller that builds to one heck of a crescendo, providing one of the most satisfying climaxes of the year. There are some who will view the director John Madden as having an agenda. I don’t know. I can’t swear that he doesn’t. And as a piece of art – which by definition is a conduit for expression – that is certainly well within the rights of the filmmakers. But, whether there’s an agenda or just a desire to present a well-thought-out, responsible story about an issue that’s seemingly on just about everybody’s minds, Miss Sloane exemplifies filmmaking at its finest and takes a stand as a mature, sophisticated, think piece for the discerning moviegoer. And, if nothing else, check it out to bask in the glow that is Jessica Chastain.
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