Its a terrible thing, sometimes, that films do not exist in a vacuum. This week there was another horrific incident in an American High school in which ten people, eight students and two teachers, were killed. Mass shootings and gun control are an insanity that seems to blight America endlessly and the inability of the American justice system and its politicians to get a grip on the problem is so perplexing and anger-inducing. The police chief there has since condemned elected officials who “called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing.”
How oddly ironic that I chose to watch Miss Sloane this week, a film which again I knew nothing of prior to watching it but which turned out to be concerned with gun control in America and a political system unable or unwilling to do anything to protect its citizens.
Jessica Chastain is one of the most interesting and impressive actresses working today, and her title role here is as fiery and commanding as they come. She plays Elizabeth Sloane, a Washington lobbyist, as driven and as ruthless as anyone you will have seen- blistering, bravura stuff. Here is a character with no hidden life behind the mask- she has no time for romance or family or freinds, she is driven to win in her career and that’s all there is, winning. There is nothing else. In that sense, it could be said that her character is one-note, with no endearing qualities, but its fascinating nonetheless and Chastain is pretty extraordinary. This is one of those films, for good or ill, where the central performance is everything, and to Chastain’s credit, it feels genuine- the genius of her performance and ability..
So, Sloane is a woman driven to win and she becomes seduced by the intellectual challenge of a no-win situation. Sloane leaves her successful job in order to take on a challenge that everyone says she cannot win- taking on the gun lobby to get a gun control bill passed into law. She isn’t emotionally driven by any moral outrage, any personal feeling of right or wrong, merely challenged by an impossible target. And she means to win against the odds.
Director John Madden has crafted a fine drama-cum-thriller and a chilling examination of a broken political system of cheats, bribes and personal ambitions outweighing any naive drive to ‘serve the people.’ The politicians are all on the take, the journalists are sleazy and corrupt, Washington seems to be a pit of vipers and charlatans. Power and wealth and status corrupts and there seems little hope. The public horror at High School shootings and other massacres at gunpoint seems a trifling inconvenience to a gun lobby able to control politicians who should instead be serving the people. The madness of the current state of American gun control with children killed in schools and a political system unwilling or unable to do anything about it seems inconceivable but its real. This film does a fine job of explaining the machinations running in Washington that ensures its easier to buy a gun than get a license to drive a car.
While its refreshing to see a film more interested in tension and mind-games than explosions and wild stunts, this film does display a glossiness and slick sense of style that separates it from the old-school grittiness of the seventies thrillers that it perhaps attempts to emulate. Although, that said, I guess Washington, being a center of political power and wealth, likely really is that facile and image-concious today, in just the same ways as the gritty, sleazy New York of the ‘seventies has been replaced by a polished Disney city of lights, and dreams.
There’s just something that feels wrong when everyone looks so perfect and beautiful. Its that feeling I get these days whenever watching a movie with Tom Cruise in it- he looks so perfect that he never looks like he’s lived the ‘life’ that the films like to pretend he has. Its a little like that with Chastain here- Sloane is ruthless and as chilling as ice if you get on the wrong side of her but she also manages to look so perfect and beautiful and so immaculately dressed – perhaps its all part of her charm offensive and a tactic/weapon in her arsenal, but it feels a little off, a little too Hollywood. That feels like I’m criticizing Chastain for not being overweight or being too beautiful, which is wrong in this day and age, I’m sure. I don’t intend to seem like a sexist pig here. Its just that my reality isn’t that perfect. Then again, if you saw all those movers and shakers, elite rich and famous, that attended the Royal Wedding yesterday, maybe it is reality, its just not mine.
Or maybe that’s just me reading too much into it. This is a perfectly fine political thriller with a genuinely outstanding central performance and is well worth watching, particularly with the news this week and so many weeks, sadly. This film suddenly is more relevant all the time, when in a better world it wouldn’t be.