Miss Sloane review: And the award for liberal self-congratulation goes to...

Jessica Chastain's latest is absurd and intellectually dishonest but also hard to resist

A drifting Republican or an opportunist? Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane

Film Title: Miss Sloane

Director: John Madden

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterson, John Lithgow

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 132 min

Thu, May 11, 2017, 14:00

   

The closest model for this utterly daft – but undeniably propulsive – exercise in liberal self-congratulation might be Alan Parker’s ill remembered The Life of David Gale. That death-penalty thriller was, you may recall, so poorly received that, 14 years later, Parker has yet to step back behind the camera.

Miss Sloane, which takes on the US gun lobby, is not nearly so bad. Indeed, it’s occasionally gripping on purpose. But the overworked plot runs David Gale close for naked implausibility.

The film begins with one of the dumbest pieces of dialogue in recent cinema. Playing the titular icy lobbyist, Jessica Chastain stares down the barrel of the camera and dares it to stare back.

“Lobbying is about foresight,” she says. “The winner plots one step ahead of the opposition. And plays her trump card just after they play theirs.” Hang on. You have no choice but to play your trump card after “they play theirs”. Those are the rules of whist. Right?

Where were we? Elizabeth Sloane is trailed by a pungent cloud of clichés concerning the driven working woman. She is short with colleagues. She regards food as fuel.

She employs an escort with a heart of gold to satisfy her sexual needs. She is, it seems, here to prove that such people must be freaks. (Miss Sloane is written and directed by men.)

In the opening sections, this politically confused automaton – is she a drifting Republican or an opportunist? – works for a firm fighting a gun registration bill. Early on, she jumps ship and takes her coterie of young acolytes to the other side of the aisle. Will the hardball tactics still work now she is with the angels?

Miss Sloane operates at the level of a mildly smart high-school student who hasn’t yet grasped the real indicators of intelligence. It thinks that the annoying walk-and-talk structures of The West Wing are the height of sophistication.

Accordingly, much of the film is taken up with people stating the bleeding obvious while racing down corridors. We need a majority to win! A majority means more than 50 per cent! Fifty per cent means half! Those sorts of things.

Smart-aleck reversals insert themselves into every second scene as the picture build towards a closing, interlocking set of twists that will trigger more groans than gasps. The straightness of Chastain’s face deserves to be honoured by its own category in the Academy Awards.

Yet for all its silliness, broadness and intellectual dishonesty (the attempts to honour the gun lobby’s arguments are laughably feeble), Miss Sloane has a narrative momentum that is hard to wholly resist. It’s absurd. But it’s never boring.