In the chess-centirc games of political power-brokers, Miss Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most headhunted lobbyist in Washington D.C. Known equally for her intelligence, ruthless pragmatism and bulletproof track record, she always does what is necessary to win. This time around she takes on the most difficult opponent of her career, and sees that winning may come at a cost. Perhaps her ability to be too cutthroat will be her undoing as she is forced to answer questions about possible violations of Senate ethics in D.C. Yes, I scoffed at that too. Whoever heard of ethics and Senate in the same sentence, let alone the same breath?
Sloane is Jackie Sharpe meets Claire Underwood (Molly Parker & Robin Wright in House of Cards). She’s willing to bend rules to get what she wants. Her tactics make trying to catch her the equivalent to catching smoke. When she’s asked to help oppose a bill that puts regulations on fire arms, she counters it and joins a firm that represents the backers of the bill. Her stubborn stance and self-motivation to do anything to achieve victory puts a target on her back, a target put there by powerful enemies with deep pockets who can do what they want, when they want, however they want. These very same people are a threat to her career and the people she cares about.
Whether you have an interest in politics or not, this film is enthralling from beginning to end and this may be one of my favourite Chastain performances. She’s a tour de force. Whether you’ve seen her as supporting characters in films like The Help (Celia Foote) or leading in stuff like The Zookeeper’s Wife, Zero Dark Thirty or Interstellar, Chastain always delivers. Even if you don’t like the films she’s in, it’s impossible to deny her acting chops and her ability to be convincing in her roles. As Sloane, she’s believable, nuanced and every line is utter perfection. She is one of those actors who most people know the name of, but is still criminally underrated in Hollywood.
Being a chess player since childhood, this is one of the greatest games of chess I have ever seen. She is playing each piece as they should be played. It is a ruthless game and the ultimate goal is to achieve checkmate, and she does, but at a cost. After watching Snowden (loved it), I was eager to find another like-minded film, and this time starring Chastain with a great supporting cast which included one of favourite upcoming talents Gugu Mbatha Raw (Belle). In the post-2010s era, I have a number of films which I have a blind spot to, including Belle. She’s just come from the set of Beauty and the Beast and now I want her in Star Wars. Make it happen Disney!
It’s no surprise that films like this always bomb in the box office. When a film tries to teach its audience something with sound dialogue and thought-provoking themes, nobody really wants to know. Especially now, after Brexit and Mr Trump, people might have just had enough of the rough political climate we’ve found ourselves in. Nonetheless, if you can spare the cash, take yourself down to the cinema and watch this film. It deserves to be supported and it’d be a criminal offence not to, even if it is just for the slick wardrobes, classy cinematography and really Neo-Noir set design which is as great to observe as Elizabeth Sloane herself.
This is modern realism at its most honest. You can’t really get anymore truthful than this. Firstly, we’re in a time where women are still striving to be taken more seriously on the world stage, especially in politics. Miss Sloane shows us that in order to be taken more seriously, women have to sink down to a man’s level, and that’s sad. The same political culture is shown in Phyllida Lloyd’s Iron Lady where Maggie Thatcher had to change how she spoke, how she walked and in essence, everything that made her her to be taken seriously. It was a different time, but there’s still similarities to be had between the two female leads.
If I want to understand what happens in politics, I can watch the news, though I’d be more inclined to believe something that happens in an episode of House of Cards than BBC News at 6. With alternative facts and all, I feel that a well-researched script can have more weight than a news story. Film and television are increasingly critiquing the world we live in. Sure, they did so ten and twenty years ago, but the stakes have increased since 9/11, the Snowden leaks and Brexit. The message is not in gun control, the message is in political corruption and this is not exclusive to the United States. Miss Sloane shows us how deep it goes, even if it is against gun regulations.
Directed by John Madden (The Debt) and written by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perara, this is a damn good political thriller. To win in D.C, you have to get dirty in the mud. You have to crawl over the little guy and cut the wire without allowing them to crawl over you. You’ve got be nasty, raw and basically conscienceless. This can often mean making an enemy out of everyone, which Sloane does, even to her own team. Through the twists and turns of the political underbelly, we see Chastain playing the long game. She’s still in the hall once all the other players have left but she has her king, a bishop, two pawns and a rook. The game’s not done until it’s done.
The acting and story is what drives this film, and is done justice by the cast’s many heavy hitters, including: Christine Baranski, Michael Stuhlbarg (Trumbo), Mark Strong (Kingsman) and John Lithgow (The Crown), with Gugu Mbatha Raw and Sam Waterston (The Newsroom). We need more films like this with strong female leads. With great performances, excellent writing and themes as personal to us as our own names, Miss Sloane’s quality is not a reflection of its box office takings.
Sloane is D.C’s Komodo dragon, she’ll nick your skin open and follow you until you die from the poison; and that’s how you play chess