With a movie like this, it’s necessary (however difficult) to put politics aside. Despite what the blurbs say, Miss Sloane isn’t really about the Second Amendment. It isn’t about gun rights; it’s about how easy it is to peddle influence in Washington and how far lobbyists will go to advance an agenda. It’s about power and the abuse of power. Although it would be disingenuous to argue that the issue underlying the legislation in Miss Sloane is irrelevant (one suspects the movie never would have been funded had it been about, for example, campaign finance reform), it’s less important than one might suspect and not an impediment to becoming involved in the story.
Director John Madden probably wouldn’t mind Miss Sloane being compared to The Verdict or And Justice for All. However, where those films sought to elevate an often-despised vocation (the practice of the law), this one revels in the infested, infected trough that is Washington lobbying. Although the ending features a big speech and a satisfying turn-the-tables "courtroom" moment, the movie validates the public’s cynicism with how things really work in the Capitol City. It’s all about money and contacts. And the person willing to skate closest to the edge and slip through all the loopholes is the one who will fare the best.
The story follows the actions of aggressive, high priced lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who has mastered all the methods of how to lose friends and alienate people. Nevertheless, she is singularly effective and when the NRA seeks to hire her to represent them, she shocks everyone by resigning her current position and going to work for a group working for a bill designed to close gun sales loopholes. She is recruited by millionaire philanthropist Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), who admires her results (although he soon learns to despise her tactics). She soon finds herself tangling with her former colleagues and is eventually placed in front of a congressional subcommittee looking into the activities she engages in.
Chastain’s powerhouse portrayal of a career-obsessed lobbyist who is smarter and slicker than all other contenders is the best thing about Miss Sloane. With a Swiss cheese conscience and an inhuman ability to discount collateral damage, Elizabeth is driven with Terminator-like precision. Moments of humanity are infrequent and, when they happen, we wonder whether they’re genuine or part of a long-term ploy.
The supporting cast reads like a "who’s who" of character actors. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (the star of 2013’s Belle) has a showy part as Esme Manucharian, the liberal (and some might argue naïve) assistant who becomes the face to the media of Elizabeth’s campaign. Allison Pill is her former right-hand woman who is now part of the team opposing her. That team is led by Michael Stuhlberg’s Pat Connors. Veteran actors Sam Waterston plays George Dupont, the head of the NRA’s lobbying firm, and John Lithgow is the congressman Dupont has in his pocket.
The plot, in addition to purportedly "outing" some of the tricks of the trade, follows along in the grand tradition of cinematic courtroom dramas.This is the kind of thing John Grisham might pen if he turned his eye toward D.C. politics. At first glance, Miss Sloane might appear to be anti-gun but it really isn’t. The film is clear-eyed in its representation of how gun control laws get defeated and there’s a scene that argues in favor of the concept of concealed carry permits. Miss Sloane is less about being pro- or anti-guns than it is about exploring the lobbying forces arrayed for and against the NRA. As a dramatic thriller, it does what it needs to do to keep the viewer involved and interested, even if some of its most theatrical tricks and twists are more the products of a writer’s invention than actual Washington D.C. activities.