Director: John Madden
Starring: Jessica Chastain, John Ligthgow, Sam Waterston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy
Lobbying is about foresight, making sure you surprise them, and they don’t surprise you. That’s the general rule of thumb for Miss Elizabeth Sloane, played with fierce determination by Jessica Chastain. She is forced to appear before a senate hearing, and you can tell it doesn’t look good for her. The movie then flashes back a few months to see how all of this unfolded. She is a tough, grab the bull by the horns type, and she’s known for her strong reputation. She’s approached to support a pro-gun lobby to appeal to female voters and repeal a gun control law that’s been put forward that would call for checks and regulations on gun owners. She basically laughs in their face when they claim she’s the perfect woman for the job. Her boss (Waterston) is furious and tries to blackmail her into taking the job. She’s too smart and independent to cower to demands, so she pulls a Jerry Maguire by quitting and taking most of her teammates with her, except Jane (Pill) who sees passed Liz’s façade. Liz takes it one step further by joining a small firm led by Rodolfo Schmidt (Strong) to go up against the gun giants to sway senate voters into voting for the gun control law. It’s all about winning for Liz, which means a deep and dark labyrinth of lies, deception, and unethical moves in order to come out victorious in the end.
Ever since her breakthrough role in The Help a few years ago, I’ve really admired the work by Jessica Chastain. She has basically worked non-stop since then with a variety of projects from indies like The Tree of Life and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby to blockbusters like The Martian and Interstellar. She has two Oscar nominations to her name as well. I can see how the role of Miss Liz Sloane would appeal to her. She’s another extremely smart and tough character who’s not afraid to make her stance known. See her work in Zero Dark Thirty for a better example of this. The problem I see with Sloane is that the character isn’t anyone fresh and original. She’s the standard power-hungry, ruthless type that has nothing in life except her career. She’s glued to her phone and screws over anyone that gets in her way. Chastain very much plays her in this one-dimensional sense, but she’s not a very likable character. This is where I’m caught in a conundrum. Is that her fault as an actress to not find some redeeming qualities to her or was that the point of the character as found in the script? I don’t always need my main characters to be likable, but why am I bothered about it here?
The generic nature given to the main character carries over to the overall execution of the story thanks to first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera. It’s a modern day David and Goliath style story set in the world of D.C. politics. Again, haven’t we seen this before where the main protagonist is completely out of his or her element but decides to battle a giant behemoth whether it’s the smoking industry, big banks, or gun companies? Perera seems to treat the movie like a really smart card game where Liz is a stealthy poker player who thinks she knows when and how to play each card and decides what her tells are going to be. The climax naturally comes with her playing the big trump card the audience doesn’t see coming. The back and forth nature of the story culminating in the hearing against her helps keep the audience guessing along the way.
You have to pay attention in the beginning of the movie as there is a lot of info thrown out to set up all the major the players involved and which side they’re on. It could be confusing later on if you miss some detail in the first part of the movie. That being said, if you are paying attention, the script cheats its audience at times by taking the easy way out with certain characters. I usually knew when random characters came into play what their ultimately fate would be. Maybe it’s the card player in me, but I saw some twists coming a mile away.
The film takes on a very topical issue given the attention to 2nd Amendment rights and gun control posed during the election. I wonder if there were discussions on whether it should be released during the presidential campaign season or if they were more focused on getting it out later for Oscar campaign season. The film takes Sloane’s position and is very much in favor of gun control, which they explain is different than confiscation. Due to the very strong stance, it feels very one-sided and preaching to the choir. It doesn’t quite appeal to those on the other side or offer enough counter argument to get the audience to sway back and forth throughout the movie, which I would have preferred. Wouldn’t it be more effective to prove a point if the screenwriter gave due justice to each side of the coin potentially swaying audiences to his side by the end of the movie? Maybe he’s more concerned with the actual character and potential downfall of Liz Sloane than the topic she is fighting for.
John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Debt) directs the film with a brisk pace which is needed for this kind of political thriller. While the film certainly isn’t boring, it doesn’t quite ask the right questions or provide the audience with a thorough look at what’s at stake. The characters are a bit too generic for the typically strong ensemble cast consisting of Chastain, Mark Strong, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, and Jake Lacy to name just a few. Seeing Waterston and Pill together again made me miss Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived show The Newsroom all the more. Many of the actors just felt like they were playing the crooked bad guy or the earnest young law student trying to be on the winning team. There’s great potential with this story, but Miss Sloane just doesn’t feel unique given the number of political movies and television shows that dabble in the corruption and unethical characters found in Washington.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s not nearly as smart and edgy as it wants us to believe.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS