How important is it for a plot twist to be unpredictable? That’s a question I found myself pondering in the hours after I saw John Madden‘s Miss Sloane, a tense and powerful political thriller that lands on a conclusion so blindingly obvious my brain threatened to tear itself apart on whether or not I felt satisfied by what I’d seen. What Miss Sloane builds to is likely to be divisive in that anyone paying even the tiniest amount of attention should see it coming a mile off, but the moment itself lands like all good plot twists should: the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and my face lit up like a kid with a candy bar.
But is it a feeling that lasts? Good plot twists are effective in the moment, but truly great ones stick with you, and I’m not sure Miss Sloane manages to pull that off. We don’t need to concern ourselves with that too much, though, as for the most part Miss Sloane is riddled with tension, packed with memorable dialogue pieces, and it gives us Jessica Chastain‘s best performance since Zero Dark Thirty.
Politics and Structure
Chastain plays Elizabeth Sloane, a Washington D.C. lobbyist known for her cold, cutthroat reputation. She is approached by a representative of a company who oppose an upcoming bill that hopes to increase control over gun purchasing in America. Sloane dismisses their poorly conceived idea, and ultimately sides with their rival lobbying form who are attempting to push the bill to pass. It’s down to Sloane and her team – including firm leader Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) and impressive employee Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – to gain senator votes and makes sure the bill passes, even with all the odds stacked against them.
Miss Sloane draws clear and direct comparison’s to Netflix’s House of Cards very early on, but this film only has two hours to play with – Netflix’s series has thirteen per season. Rather than feeling thinly sketched, though, Miss Sloane is tightly packed with narrative momentum, always pushing forward. Jonathon Perera‘s script is phenomenally intricate in how he keeps the story engaging; there’s only so long you can watch people try to make other people say yes. Perera employs a flashback-based structure, beginning the film in media res and building up to the moment – it gives everything a sense of urgency, a constant feel of time running out.
It also helps that the two strands – present day and flashback – eventually tie together beautifully. We watch as the pieces are put in place for the film’s past timeline to catch up with the present, meaning the format feels useful rather than clichéd, which it can frequently fall victim to when poorly executed. The film also never stays static for too long – if it isn’t dropping mini narrative twists to change direction, it’s shifting its character dynamics instead. If there’s one thing film and TV has taught us about politics, it’s that the political climate is an ever-changing entity: Miss Sloane captures that feeling masterfully.
It’s All About Sloane
Of course, within the constantly shifting scenery there are standout moments. The brief pit stops between Sloane and Jake Lacy‘s Forde, an escort that Sloane begrudgingly uses, are all tensely staged and emotionally revealing. It’s these scenes that show Sloane away from the politics, out of the public eye and hidden from the cameras – we get a real sense of her behind the facade here, and the film wisely doesn’t overplay this. She isn’t too different, but it’s still noticeable. The film even finds one of the strongest scenes of the year when Sloane heads to a live TV debate; the sequence smartly sets us up to feel as if we know where it’s headed before sidestepping that and landing on something infinitely more powerful and personal to the characters.
None of this would really work without Chastain, though, a performer so reliably strong and on even better form than she’s been in years – and that’s saying a lot, considering she’s given us breathtaking performances in the likes of Interstellar and Crimson Peak so recently. Chastain is simply electrifyingly good here – her stonewalled iciness is endlessly captivating, pulling you into the film from its very first frame. The one scene in which Chastain is allowed to truly let loose is a stunning moment for her as an actor, as Sloane’s former hardness comes crashing to the ground for one brief flash. The scene somehow feels both delicate and terrifying in equal measure, and it’s a combination of emotions that Chastain handles beautifully.
Guns And Everyone Else
While the film does belong to Chastain, there isn’t a single performer here off their game. Strong is clever in how he controls his performance; in a character that could easily slip into something far too obvious he does the heavy work in holding himself up and preventing this. Schmidt has some control over Sloane, he’s one of the few characters in the film who does, and Strong is more than capable of appearing bigger and more powerful than her whenever the film requires it. Mbatha-Raw also delivers, a subplot for her character threatens to push the film into overly emotional territory but she grasps the material well in a controlled and frequently powerful performance.
It’s Esme’s subplot, in fact, that provides the film with much of its real world context. In a reveal too spoilery to give away here, Esme is brought from fiction to reality, and when the film is tackling gun crime that’s one hell of a risky move, but it works. Miss Sloane takes a clear stand in the gun control debate but never comes across as preachy or false; it embeds its characters with reasoning and histories so that their perspectives become understandable. The film feels very topical for a number of obvious reasons but it doesn’t let this relevance overwhelm the plot or its characters, as it demonstrates remarkable self control.
Miss Sloane frequently threatens to derail but never does so, always pulled back by its cast or some clever writing. It’s evident that Perera is a stronger narrative writer than a character one; while Sloane herself is a triumph of sorts, it’s those around her that aren’t as successful, but this doesn’t plague the film too much at all. Miss Sloane is well performed across the board and it’s more than capable of gripping you for the entirety of its two hours, even if its final twist is less effective in afterthought than it is in the moment. Still, if we get a better political thriller this year, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
What did you make of Miss Sloane‘s final twist? Tell us in the comments!
Miss Sloane released in the US on 9th December 2016, and is out in the UK now.