Thursday, April 26, 2018
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Review: 'Miss Sloane' is a political soap opera with an identity crisis

Miss Sloane makes being a Washington, D.C., lobbyist look like a pretty good gig for women. You get a killer wardrobe and all the condescending men you can eat, a personal Uber guy and a gigolo on call who really wants to know who you are and how you feel.

There's a downside, of course. Juggling political snares, back-stab strategies and brief lapses into morality can be exhausting for a lobbyist and, it turns out, her audience. Wading through Miss Sloane is like simultaneously binge watching two political soap operas, each starring Jessica Chastain as hell on high heels.

The woman's given name is Elizabeth Sloane, the best in D.C. at what she does, which is lobbying politicos for deep-pocket clients. Chastain's paleness is perfect for such a cold-blooded character but the actor is undermined by a plot painted into a corner by director John Madden and screenwriter Jonathan Perera.

Miss Sloane begins with Elizabeth being grilled about her tactics at a Senate hearing led by John Lithgow, so we know she's in deep trouble. Pleading the Fifth to each question, Elizabeth's steely demeanor inspires her former colleague Jane Molloy (Alison Pill) to flashback a few months to when it all began.

That's when Elizabeth turned down an NRA-style organization seeking to reach out to women angered by school shootings with anecdotes of firearms saving lives. Her colleagues (Sam Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg) are furious, making an offer to join the opposition impossible to resist. Taking a few underlings with her, Elizabeth begins playing the angles, complete with rapid fire explanations of why.

Perera's screenplay is a talky procession of deceptions and gotchas. The most satisfying involve Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a gun control advocate due to personal reasons ripe for exploiting. Esme isn't ready for Elizabeth's cutthroat pragmatism. Neither is Forde (Jake Lacy), Elizabeth's paid himbo and the film's worst distraction.

Chastain plows through this tangled scenario with an icy ferocity that's entertaining. You get the feeling that Miss Sloane would work better as a streaming or cable series, allowing more time to explore characters and issues, giving actors more room for dense dialogue. Maybe come up with a better way out of that corner.

Madden and Perera settle for a domino takedown that's improbable at best. In such situations, it's good to think backward from the solution, checking the math, so to speak. Miss Sloane piles up too many red, white and blue herrings; too many things need to go right in order to reach its conclusion.

There's a trashy side to Miss Sloane that's appealing and a preachy side that isn't. Elizabeth gobbling speed in ritzy restroom stalls and fondling Forde is more fun than her pragmatic views on gun control politics. Chastain is game for either side of her character; her movie offers success with one.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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