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In Theaters: MISS SLOANE (2016)

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MISS SLOANE
(France/US/UK - 2016)

Directed by John Madden. Written by Jonathan Perera. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Jake Lacy, Christine Baranski, David Wilson Barnes, Chuck Shamata, Dylan Baker, Ennis Esmer, Raoul Bhaneja, Douglas Smith, Meghann Fahy, Lucy Owen, Michael Cram, Joe Pingue. (R, 132 mins)

A sort-of MICHAEL CLAYTON take on the gun control lobby, MISS SLOANE is fairly transparent end-of-the-year awards bait that works more often than it doesn't and serves as a reminder that movies for grown-ups used to not be such a rare commodity. The crammed story perhaps bites off more than it can chew yet still seems a little long running past the two-hour mark, and frequently seems like it could've been better served as an HBO or FX series. It also can't help but feel like Aaron Sorkin fan fiction, with debuting screenwriter Jonathan Perera slavishly devoted to the Sorkin style, from every line of dialogue sounding like an over-rehearsed proclamation to the presence of NEWSROOM co-stars Sam Waterston and Alison Pill to dubiously silly character names, though in fairness to Perera, neither "Rodolfo Schmidt" nor "Esme Manucharian" seem quite as improbable as Olivia Munn as THE NEWSROOM's chief financial reporter "Sloan Sabbith," though a point is made of Schmidt's middle name being "Vittorio." Though dealing with a topical subject matter, director John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL) gives MISS SLOANE  a '70s aesthetic in its matter-of-fact, Alan J. Pakula-esque presentation, right down to a clandestine meeting in a dimly-lit Washington, D.C. parking garage that's straight out of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.






Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain in icy and driven ZERO DARK THIRTY mode) is a top shark for a powerful D.C. lobbying firm run by George Dupont (Waterston). Dupont wants her to work with Bob Sandford (Chuck Shamata), a representative from an NRA-type organization looking to bring women aboard the pro-gun movement. Elizabeth derisively dismisses the idea, with everyone wrongfully assuming she lost a loved one in a mass shooting. Her rationale is simple: she has the skills and the power plays to sell anything on Capitol Hill, but pushing to make gun access easier is where she draws the line and grows a conscience. She quits Dupont's firm in protest and joins a smaller outfit owned by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) that's backing a mandatory background check bill that Dupont and his new top gun Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg) are working to help Sandford shut down. Elizabeth pulls out every trick in the book, putting the cause before all else, including outing colleague Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as a survivor of a high school massacre 20 years ago, something Esme has kept buried from everyone except Schmidt. As Elizabeth's former colleagues--Dupont, Connors, and Jane Molloy (Pill)--plot her downfall with a forgotten incident in her past involving paying for a congressman's overseas trip as part of a lobby for palm oil tariffs (way too much time spent on that scintillating subject), Miss Sloane sets her own plan in motion that exemplifies her core philosophy: play your trump card right after they play theirs and make sure you surprise them.


Chastain commits to the character even as Perera's script has her go through all the predictable arcs. We learn little about Miss Sloane as a person other than she's a loner who doesn't relate to people, thinks only of her work, abuses prescription pills, and frequently enlists the services of male escorts when she needs a release or to "fantasize about the life I didn't want." When her usual appointment skips town, she meets his replacement Forde (Jake Lacy), and it's all business until he starts to sense real feelings in her, and she of course shuts down and sends him away, her illusion of emotionless isolation shattered. You see moments like this coming, and others like the desk-clearing fit of rage when her back's against the wall, the opposition is beating her, and she's questioning her entire career. Told mostly in a series of flashbacks as Elizabeth is testifying before a Congressional hearing overseen by a vindictive senator (John Lithgow) and not following her attorney's (David Wilson Barnes) advice and invoking the Fifth, MISS SLOANE sometimes suffers from its characters giving speeches in lieu of having actual, real-life conversations, but it does a mostly commendable job of replicating an "issues" movie from back in the day, fused with the least grating tendencies of its obvious inspiration in Aaron Sorkin. Madden and Perera succeed in making it less about taking sides on the gun issue and more about the characters while keeping the preachy, hectoring sanctimony (like, everything that ever came out of the mouth of Jeff Daniels' Will McAvoy on THE NEWSROOM) that's often Sorkin's Achilles heel, to a minimum.



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