“You cross the line when you don’t treat people with respect. You’re smart enough to know that. You just don’t care.”
What an amazing political year this has been! One of the things that have led to the strangeness of this election cycle is a mistrust in the very institutions that make up the political landscape. We suspect that legislation gets passed more because of money and lobbying than because of the will of the people or even because of ideology. Miss Sloane takes us into that world of lobbying, persuasion, and corruption. Does that make this sound like a cynical film? You may need to withhold judgment until it all plays out.
Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a one of the most successful lobbyist at a high-power firm in Washington, DC. She is known not only for her success rate, but for her thoroughness and scrupulousness. She does not just present information, she manipulates people and issues. She knows all the ways to bend the rules—even how to break them without getting caught. When she is approached by the gun lobby to help get women to oppose a bill that would add restrictions to gun sales, she not only refuses, she quits the firm she works at and hires on to a boutique firm with various young idealists to fight for the passage of the bill. This is a game of moves and countermoves that Elizabeth orchestrates. She only cares about winning. She doesn’t care who she steps on in the process—even those she works with may only be pawns for her to sacrifice.
But the opposition at her old firm knows her well. They can anticipate her moves. Worse, they know where all the skeletons are hidden. They are not above throwing her to the wolves to neutralize her. When the film opens, she is taking the Fifth in front of a Senate committee investigating her corrupt practices. Her reputation for good or ill becomes the key to whether this bill will pass or not. But she always saves her “trump card” until after the opponent has played their trump. Will she have what it takes to pull off a win this time?
While the film deals with the always present issue of guns in America, that is really only the setting for the personal story of this ethically-challenged woman and the industry she is a part of. It does present arguments about the gun issue, but that really isn’t the point of the film. It is really about what lengths Elizabeth will go to in order to achieve her goal. In fact, we don’t really know what motives her. Is it the issue, or just the chance to prove she can beat the most powerful lobby in the country?
Jessica Chastain is the real power that drives this film. The supporting cast (including Sam Waterston, Alison Pill, John Lithgow, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mark Strong) all add depth to the story, but this really is Chastain’s film, and she carries it extremely well. The intensity of her character, and at times her vulnerability, are what really draw us into the story.
German statesman Otto von Bismark told us, “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” That reflects the messiness inherent in the political process—a messiness that can easily lead to a cynicism that makes us doubt the whole process, and those who are part of the process. Elizabeth Sloane has a ready answer that she can quickly recite when someone accuses her of cynicism. She doesn’t so much deny the charge as dismiss it as irrelevant. But do we think cynicism is the way we should look at the political process? Have we assumed that approach, even though in a less obvious intensity? What about idealism? Should it have a role in the way politics plays out? Amazingly, for all the cynicism that seems to permeate the story, in the end we discover this really is an idealistic film in disguise.
Photos courtesy EuropaCorp – France 2 Cinema