(2017, John Madden)
[2.5 out of 5 stars]
In the age of Trump's America, where the news headlines are stranger and more unbelievable than the last, it's hard to sit through a work of fiction that underwhelms in comparison to the real world. As the old adage by Mark Twain goes: “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” old adage by Mark Twain goes: “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
The script by first-time and sole screenwriter Jonathan Perera is explicit with this obligation. Its confinement to the possible is so obvious that it distracts. While this is an entertaining political thriller, it is only passable and comes across as being out-of-touch and out-of-date considering the current sociopolitical climate. I love a portrayal of a female fiery force as much as the next feminist but considering the talent involved, this movie about a female lobbyist manipulating the world of politics through her unrelenting commitment to win - fails to deliver.
MISS SLOANE's fictionality is unsubtle. You can see how certain plot points, lines of dialogue and structuring decisions are based on how well it can manipulate the audience's reactions and the actions of the characters on-screen. Stock characters abound from out-of-touch old men with power, to sympathetic victim forced to relive a traumatic past - there's even a (male) hooker with a heart. And of course, the fiercely intelligent, sharp-as-nails lobbyists Elizabeth Sloane who is played by the always magnificent Jessica Chastain who extends far beyond what the script offers her.
She blazes through each Sorkinesque line but its impact rarely lands. Every single line coming out of her mouth and the mouths of those around her aims to conspicuously reinforce her characterisation. Words are thrown around describing her as so out-of-the-box and incomparable, that her political methods are unorthodox. This is done so constantly that it becomes tiresome. When your script spells out who the characters are instead of trusting the actors to do that and the audience to form their own judgment, then it is a poorly written script. This kind of blunt characterisation is unnecessary because you have Jessica Chastain playing her. She can convey a character's innermost lives with a minuscule morph of on her face - see TREE OF LIFE.
I couldn't help compare this performance to another more brilliant portrayal by Chastain in ZERO DARK THIRTY. There are shades of that character in MISS SLOANE but that script is much more nuanced and did not announce its intent but trusted its audience enough to form their own conclusions. It is also a script based on real people and real-life events. And the events in that film were far more complicated than the fabricated events in MISS SLOANE.
I've noticed a divide between certain movies of late. Movies I've gravitated towards have exhibited a brand of modernity. A blend of naturalism and simplicity with a touch of the unreal, the supernatural, the speculative and the sensual: ARRIVAL, PERSONAL SHOPPER, TONI ERDMANN, SWISS ARMY MAN, PATERSON, EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT. Then there are those movies that left me satisfied by its end but upon rumination left me underwhelmed by its nagging conservatism: LA LA LAND, FENCES, SILENCE, HACKSAW RIDGE and MISS SLOANE. These are not bad movies. But they exhibit a certain level of comfort with tried and trying methods of storytelling that is merely regurgitation repackaged as new. These are the same characters saying the same things in exactly the same way. I am ready to move on.
In the past, I accepted and even loved these movies. They're comfortable. But this is no longer the time to be comfortable. The real world is so far ahead of fiction that we to look at these imagined lives and worlds and make them stranger to even begin to compete with the utter baffling times we currently live in.
[Image courtesy of Roadshow Films]