miss sloane movie poster

A compelling, intelligent political drama with a stunning performance from Jessica Chastain.

Miss Sloane, a timely, intelligent and twist-y thriller directed by John Madden and starring Jessica Chastain, is another picture that failed to get the attention it deserved at this year’s Academy Awards (also see Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius). In addition to this, the film has performed poorly at the box office and, shockingly, the critics are heaping more dirt on its grave with middling reviews.

So what’s going on?

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In the film, Chastain stars as Elizabeth Sloane, a ruthless lobbyist with a formidable reputation and a less-than-personable social demeanour. She’s obsessed with winning, which is evidently why she takes on the contentious issue of gun control in the United States. She and her team fight to pass a bill that would extend waiting periods for firearms and enforce stricter background checks.

Alongside Sloane is impassioned activist and school-shooting survivor Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and they square off against Sloane’s ex-business partner Pat Conners (Michael Stuhlbarg). Sloane’s methods are often unorthodox and at times outright abhorrent. The film counters her bristling professional demeanour with a complex private life that includes pill-popping and regular encounters with a male escort, played by Jake Lacy.

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Admittedly, the script contains a lot to digest. The forward momentum it adopts in the final third causes the plot’s revelations to come hard and fast, for which Perera’s script has been criticised. One plot point is so coincidental it feels as if it has to be a setup, but Madden reins in these more outrageous moments, keeping each scene taut and compelling.

It has a timeline-hopping structure that reflects The Social Network, while the carefully laid-out sequence of events calls to mind Se7en, another David Fincher film. It’s Chastain, however, who really grounds the piece with her Golden Globe-nominated performance. She brings to the icy Sloane a kind of misery, a below-the-surface chaos which only the audience gets to see.

Perhaps the film’s political focus didn’t sit well with American audiences, released close to the tumultuous election. At a time when political beliefs couldn’t be more divided, it takes a clear side on an issue that splits a nation whose audiences often make or break a film’s success. It’s a shame, because Miss Sloane is the kind of blockbuster we see only rarely nowadays—an intelligent drama for adults whose shots fired are verbal and whose action comes in the form of shocking revelations in the film’s script.