JESSICA Chastain stands out a mile from a universally strong cast in John Madden’s gripping political thriller Miss Sloane.
Shining the spotlight on the murky world of lobbying, the 132-minute twisty-turny talkathon never drags and is punctuated by a series of verbally-explosive moments.
The title refers to Elizabeth Stone, a highly-rated lobbyist asked by the pro-gun lobby to help kill off a proposed new bill to tighten ID checks on would-be firearms owners, a request she literally laughs in the face of.
Having enraged company boss George Dupont (Sam Waterson), desperate as he is to win such a lucrative client, she is told to knuckle down and get on with the job.
Cue Sloane leading a mass walkout and taking half of her team to work for the other side.
With time running out to filing day, Sloane and her team face a race against time — a handy way to add urgency to a scenario based purely on complex and arguments full of grey areas — to “lock down” the require number of senators to get the bill through.
A shrewd operator unconcerned by personal loyalties and driven by the desire to get the required result, Sloane draws on her wealth of experience to exploit every angle, crossing ethical and even legal lines in pursuit of her goal.
Chastain is totally at ease at centre stage, exuding screen presence, nailing the grandstanding speeches and just occasionally lifting the veil to show a hint of vulnerability and morality and save us from disengaging with her otherwise repulsive character.
The script — by newcomer Jonathan Perera — strongly echoes the work of Aaron Sorkin, so if you liked the West Wing and The Newsroom, you’ll mostly likely be seduced by Miss Sloane.
The Newsroom connection is extended by the presence of Waterson and Alison Pill, who plays the only member of Sloane’s team to stay behind, while fans of The Good Wife will enjoy the apt appearance in such a legal minefield of Christine Baranski as a no-nonsense senator.
John Lithgow as a congress committee chairman, Mark Strong as Sloane’s new boss and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as the underling unwittingly thrust into the role of campaign, also put in strong performances.
The plot stretches credulity with a series of barely-believable twists, but such is the quality of the acting, the strength of the sparkling, politically-literate script and the film’s refusal to portray the sides as black-and-white, I was gripped throughout.
For a film dominated by people in office wear engaged in earnest debate, the level of tension and suspense maintained is impressive.
A pointed commentary on the role of the media, special interests and personal ambition in the operation of the world’s most lauded democracy, Miss Sloane may descend into melodrama in the final act but still poses important questions.
Chief among them, as the reflective final shot asks, is: “What you would be prepared to lose, in order to win?”