EuropaCorp USA 134 Minutes R
In any other year this might be considered a troubling, shocking indictment of the slimy lobbying business in Washington, D.C. Except that now real life is stranger than any of the fiction presented in this movie.
Jessica Chastain is Miss Sloane who is a brilliant, amoral, ruthless lobbyist. She is driven to win, no matter what. She’s the fast-talking focal point in this film. Her rapid fire delivery brings us back to the strong women like Bette Davis, Kathryn Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Rosalind Russell in her classic, His Girl Friday. Directed by John Madden, (Shakespeare in Love), this film brings that style up to date, reminding us of Alan Sorkin’s West Wing and Newsroom. You better pay attention in this one, too, because there’s a lot of fast dialogue and strategy to follow.
This is Jonathan Perera’s first screenplay (plucked from the Black List of not yet produced but liked scripts) for Jonathan Perera who you would think knows a lot about American politics. But he’s from Malaysia and had never been to Washington DC before working on this film. An old friend from high school had just been hired as lobbyist. That sounded cool and it wasn’t a hundred per cent politics, so he made Sloane a lobbyist, a person who knew how to use tactics to bring pressure to bear to benefit business, organizations and issues. Sloane is a “dark arts lobbyist” using questionable methods, but she is so driven, she’s on the verge of a meltdown obsessed with winning at all costs. Why? Because she loves a challenge. To her it’s like a mountain she has to scale just because it’s there.
Perera says he did a lot of research and even John Lithgow who plays a Senator in the film commented on its being packed with authentic detail. Perera credits Chastain with doing as much research as he did. She even hung out with lobbyists in Washington. She says the power brokers she met have hair, makeup and red lipstick and a wardrobe that shouts power. Her lipstick throughout the film is blood red.
Chastain worked with Director Madden on The Debt and she was excited to work with him again. Madden loved the script for the multiple story lines and all the characters. This one is packed with A listers. There’s John Lithgow, Sam Waterston and Allison Pill worked together in Newsroom, Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty with Chastain), Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Strange, Arrival) and newcomer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion). He also loves the twists and turns and the element of surprise.
Sloane is working for a high powered conservative agency in Washington run by George Dupont (Waterston) and with contentious colleague, Pat Connors (Stuhlbarg). They’re asked to lobby to squelch a gun control bill. Even she has her limits and when the head of the pro gun organization goes too far, she decides to flip, quit and join the firm with the anti gun lobbyists run by the more ethical Rodolfo Schmidt. (Strong). Her closest assistant, Jane Molloy, played by Alison Pill, refuses to go with her, which is one of the few times she’s rebuffed and Sloane is surprised.
One scene that is reminiscent of the debates of the recent presidential election is when Connors and Sloane go against each other in a TV debate about the gun control bill. Stuhlbarg says here are two allies who have become antagonists and they take it personally and act accordingly. He describes it as “provocative, funny and just above your head.” He says it was really fun watching Chastain tackle this role and make it seem so effortless.
Sloane is tough as granite and Rodolfo (Strong) is not happy the way she orders her new team around. When she starts to go off the rails, he tries to keep her in check and they also go head to head. Sloane gets to know team member Esme (Mbathta-Raw) and sees her as a younger version of herself. Sloane throws Esme into a much more high profile role, as their spokesperson for gun control, which Esme really doesn’t want. And there’s more to that story.
In the meantime, Sloane’s books activities away from the office you would think would satisfy most people, but they don’t work for her. We see some behavior that shows that her personal life is a mess. And her interaction with colleagues in the office is brutally frank and downright mean. Everything she does is calculated.
But when she’s called in front of Congress to answer for her questionable ethics facing a possible prison term, is the deck stacked against her? She learns that winning can come with a high price. It’s politics as a blood sport. Her motto is when someone plays their trump card, that’s when you play your trump card. Jessica Chastain is surrounded by a cast of great actors in this film, but her performance stands out, and it’s the best card in the deck.