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The perception of the career governmental lobbyist has been painted as a career in questionable morals, blackmail and back alleyway dealings. From Mr.Smith Goes to Washington to Wag the Dog, this profession has provided some fascinating on screen characters, but few films manage to raise the profile of one of the most demonized jobs in the world. Do not expect Miss Sloane to lift this career out of the muck and mire of the political system, but can it create new personalities we love to hate in cinema?
Jessica Chastian (The Martian) carries the weight of this project on her shoulders as the formidable and despised power-broker, Elizabeth Sloane. She typifies the person that people love to hate. Sloane ruthlessly and successfully heads up the lobby for palm oil for the country of Indonesia when she gets offered the opportunity of a lifetime in the world of lobbyists, to become the crusader for the gun lobby. In an apparent career ending move, she not only declines the high profile position, but decides to join the opposing lobbyist firm to fight against easy access to fire arms. At the new firm she is able combine her tenacious methods and the passion of a young team to make needed in-roads for changing governmental policy. As the firm rides along on the turning tide of American sentiment, the gun lobby puts up their own fight and it is to destroy the reputation of Elizabeth Sloane. With one clerical misstep, Sloane and her team find themselves in the firing line of a congressional hearing and could potentially lose all that they have achieved.
The winning combination of Chastain’s performance and an excellent supporting cast provide the qualities that convey all of the nuances of this industry. As the lead, Chastain delivers the intensity that was reminiscent of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. She exemplifies the strong and powerful woman as a leader of industry, but with a bit less humour. Then director John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) surrounds her with the likes of Sam Waterston, Mark Strong and John Lithgow, who complement her critically acclaimed central character. These veterans add to the mix, but it is the lesser known cast members that provide the strength of story. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the morally grounded lobbyist and Michael Stuhlbarg as her lobbyist adversary provide the depth of casting to carry the first two-thirds of the film into a fascinating mix of ethics and manipulation. The twists and turns provide the necessary tension and demand an equally explosive conclusion, but this is when things fail to ignite and the final act merely fizzles.
With the congressional hearing as the backbone of the drama and most of the film reliant on a series of flashbacks, Madden builds the drama and sets the stage for an inevitable showdown. This familiar method of storytelling should work and has seen effective, dramatic closure in other films. For this plot method to truly work, the audience has to remain relatively oblivious to key elements which allow for an inevitable twist. Miss Sloane’s finish manages to fall in-between the predictable and the contrived. The writing seems to fail, but another element to blame is the inability for the central character to garner any support from the audience. Poor execution and the convincing vicious nature of Sloane make it difficult to side with her in the end. She is unable to take a moral high ground stance, which leaves the finale with little punch. The weakness in the final act moves Miss Sloane from a compelling drama with a strong message to unnecessary and cringe-worthy propaganda. In the end, it could be said that the film failed to lobby support for its cause and merely delivers eye-rolls and groans.