Let’s be frank here: at its best, Miss Sloane is a mid-tier, House of Cards level, sub-Sorkin-at-his-best tale of fictionalised (and mostly depoliticised) demi-ethical political manoeuvring and personal conduct. Though Jonathan Perera’s debut script sometimes employs some fun turns of phrase and engaging conceits and John Madden directs it spicily (though the influences of a lifetime’s Washington intrigue dramas can be keenly felt) it never exceeds expectations.
But this one stars Jessica Chastain in the lead. And the film is about her, and her second in command Gugu Mbatha-Raw, along with their comic relief team of millennial aides fighting the battle to enact progressive gun legislation and humiliate all the old status-quo supporting white men who stand in their way. Oh, such catharsis, so sweet and tender. My heart. My joy. There’s also Mark Strong there because Madden’s a British director and he’s a working actor. There’s no love plot between them.
Which is not to say it is the perfect balm to my aching socialist heart. Our Chastain’s character Sloane tends towards the apolitical, she admits early on she’s against unfettered gun access, but not as a part of any larger political ideology, it’s just a principle. She dashes out ire for both liberals and conservatives alike, and given her position seems entirely happy with the reality of government corruption so long as it allows her to achieve her aims. Her aims largely consist of winning, and getting more money.
The money allows her to buy all her fancy clothes, I can’t remember which particular fashion houses donated their styles to the film but there were a fair few. Which is indicative of something else. It’s a white feminist film. Hooray for affluent white women working in their powerful jobs. Of the diverse crew she has working under her, something not commented upon, nor something her character does anything to encourage, it’s the black woman from a disadvantaged background whose life she chooses to shit up. Also there’s this ongoing subplot of her soliciting donations from women’s groups to aid her cause and it’s like, ‘fucking white feminists hoovering up all that cash, even in our movies.’
It’s like someone binged the entire lifetime run of DecodeDC while on adderall and hammered out a script. I’ve no idea if it bears any resemblance to reality whatsoever. Certainly Sloane lives an inhuman life, a modern day Machievelli who talks early on about staying one step ahead of your opponent, even when you appear to be on the back foot, and then the consistency with which she hoists and dunks on the other team is that of a dream. She even keeps up a good relationship with her escort, you feel he got a thing going for her, but she keeps it calm and professional. She also does a lot of drugs, but not the kinds of ones which have any adverse effect, the ones that make you superhuman.
Which would torpedo the whole thing were it not for Chastain’s performance. There’s like this scene where she’s having a celebratory drink and Mark Strong’s character gets all pissed off at her for being an amoral douchebag and storms out. Her arm holding the whisky bottle does this thing while the rest of her is waiting for him to leave before she reacts. She’s so good y’all, even when working with material that just dreams of a version of itself that actually says something.
Cos for all the female empowerment fantasies this embodies (and specifically the libertarian, individualistic, anti-feminist ones that we selfishly indulge in, knowing that for as nice as personal wealth and power seem they are anathema to the world we must strive to create) it sorta got a whole bunch of crap in it. You know how The Wolf of Wall Street ends with the lead speeding a short stay in tennis prison, guess what happens at the end of this one here. Except her incarceration is presented as a moral victory over all those hypocritical politicians that were accepting the bribes she was handing out in the first place.
I should dislike this one. It’s ideological poison dressed up all nice. It makes me understand what the twitter tankies are getting at when they shit on liberalism (although in their case it’s almost always followed by something dismissive about intersectionality.) But even my shameful fantasies are just that, and I gotta allow them sometimes. There’s always that scene in a Sorkin product where a cool guy wittily puts down some b**ch and I know dudes who are like, ‘yeah, that scene, that scene’ without engaging with the problematic subtext.
Miss Sloane is exactly the same thing. The only difference is that it’s for me.
Miss Sloane is currently screening in UK cinemas