Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: Miss Sloane

Miss Sloane
Cert: 15 / 132 mins / Dir. John Madden / Trailer

Standard operating procedure, mate. Begin a day's film-viewing with a tense and complex drama unfolding around a subject about which you know little or nothing! But we can only obey the most efficient cinematic schedule, never change it.

John Madden's political drama stars Jessica Chastain as its subject, a US lobbyist who takes on the task of persuading senators to vote for tighter firearms regulations. The film opens at a congressional hearing in which Sloane is being indicted for violations of Senate ethics-rules. Character closeups then spark a series of personalised flashbacks, to fill in the three months' events leading up to this moment.

The story structure requires thisformat , with its reveals and character-building dependent on the courtroom scene we know is coming. The pacing of the film however, suffers a little under the non-linear timeline, with stretches of backstory becoming longer and taking over the narrative 'now', jarring when we drop back to the trial. Miss Sloane is a densely scripted affair, with a lot of fast talking and legal shorthand thrown at the viewer but with enough smart-arsed quips and shouting to break things up for a civilian audience (ie. the audience).

Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow and Mark Strong all offer sterling supporting performances but this really is Jessica Chastain's show, and she's fantastic in a film which never really gets past quite-good. Constantly engaging and 'dumbed down' enough for even me to follow easily, I'd still be hard pushed to recommend it as an entertaining watch. But the film handles a sensitive subject without resorting to hysterics or even taking sides other than 'they're all shifty, mate'. Miss Sloane is more about the lobbying process itself than what the characters are pushing for.

Best line: "Career suicide's not so bad when you consider that the alternative is suicide-by-career…"

The only real downside for me was the lack of narrative-transformation on the part of our eponymous protagonist. While the events of the film gradually reveal Elizabeth Sloane to be principled but flawed, she's supposed to come across at the film's beginning as an obsessive, inaccessible perfectionist, striking fear into the hearts of those around her rather than awe or admiration*1….

But in an early scene where Sloane washes her hands in a work restroom, we see her then use a paper towel to grab the door handle, forming a barrier between herself and any germs left behind by less diligent colleagues. And in that moment, I thought that's someone with such a fundamental distrust of other people's basic decency and self-awareness that I pretty much just fell in love with the character before the door had swung closed again.

And if I'm on-side from Act I, where's the development, eh?

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Big Short.
Except this is easier to follow and features characters who aren't all uniformly awful

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
That won't be essential to get the most out of the film.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it does, although the subject matter is largely alien to me, so I can't say for certain.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Maybe not best but certainly on the front-page.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Gugu Mbatha-Raw's in this, and she was in some episodes of that Doctor Who programme along with David 'Huyang' Tennant.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although at one point, we see Sloane reading a John Grisham novel of an evening. For someone who spends an inordinate amount of time around lawyers for a living, this shows a damning lack of imagination on the character's part. That'd be like expecting an astronaut on the ISS to watch episodes of Star Trek after clocking-off for the day. I'm not saying it wouldn't happen, but everyone else would quite rightly take the piss. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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