PLOT A shrewd Washington lobbyist faces a powerful adversary
CAST Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Mark Strong
RATED R (language, sexuality)
BOTTOM LINE Smart and salacious, with a magnificent performance by Chastain
“Lobbying is about foresight,” Miss Madeleine Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) declares. It’s her mantra, her battle cry, her affirmation. In the crackling political drama “Miss Sloane,” lobbying is a game of chess, and the best lobbyists can see the moves and twists steps ahead of their opponents. Miss Sloane, Liz for short, happens to be the best player in the game.
Directed by John Madden with a coolly elegant verve, “Miss Sloane” zings with the internal electricity generated from its script, penned by first-time writer Jonathan Perera. Chastain, as the ruthlessly competitive, ambitious, and powerful lobbyist, reels off machine-gun rounds of dialogue — monologuing, debating, lecturing and preaching the gospel of whatever client is paying the bills.
A congressional hearing investigating the ethics of her work serves as the framing device for the story of “Miss Sloane,” with flashbacks to color in her more devious doings as D.C.’s most cutthroat lobbyist, which have led to her pleading the Fifth before Rep. Ron Sperling (John Lithgow). With a reputation that precedes her, she’s not above cackling in the face of a high-powered gun rights advocate when he suggests she lead a campaign to bring more women to his side. Though she laughs because she finds the plan trite and misguided, there might be something more behind her dismissal. This issue takes her from her conservative lobbying firm to a liberal boutique agency representing the opposing team. The film offers only morsels in terms of her personal history, but there’s a nagging thought that something more might be motivating her political assault on guns.
The third-act twist brings to bear the thriller roots just below the slick prestige surface. Though it’s never schlocky, the inevitable conclusion feels baser than the heady moral and ethical philosophizing that precedes it. The production value, smooth direction and Chastain’s showstopping performance elevate “Miss Sloane” above typical genre fare, though it lands a one-two punch in managing to be both salacious and smart.