Oxford Dictionaries just declared "post-truth" as its 2016 international word of the year. The heart of the definition is how public opinion is shaped less by objective facts and more by emotional appeals.
Which brings me to the movie, Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden and starring Jessica Chastain. Billed as a political thriller, I prefer to call it a drama filled with plenty of edgy twists and turns, and, yes politics are involved. On its surface, the game is about the gun lobby and its opposition. The real story is about Power--its pursuit, the avid hunger for it, and who can play the game best. The movie is also a character study.
Enter Elizabeth Sloane, the Machiavellian heroine/villain of the movie. She's a successful special-interest lobbyist on Capitol Hill, who is driven to win and appears to give little thought to the various causes she represents, or to the people she uses to achieve her goals. She manipulates not only the truth, but the emotions of the people involved.
People in business cultivate a placid demeanor that reveals nothing of what they might be plotting, I mean, thinking. Women generally have to work harder at this since we're encouraged from childhood to be open, amenable, and cooperative. Miss Sloane didn't get that memo. Jessica Chastain not only plays a brilliant, unscrupulous character, but she manages to conceal all emotion while she's scheming. Her private time is another matter.
I like my heroes and heroines to be a mixed bag of angel and devil: Miss Sloane epitomizes this, but it takes a while for the cracks to show. She's an insomniac who pops prescription uppers to keep going. So she's got a bit of ADHD. Who doesn't?
She hires a male escort to meet her in bed, sex and no emotional exchanges, please. This humanized her for me. Don't count on erotic scenes here, Miss Sloane is on a schedule and while she's squeezed this interlude into her calendar, her orgasm only requires his cooperation.
She's successful, but what will her next challenge be? For some inconceivable reason, she resigns from the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington. Her employer accepts the gun lobby's appeal to get the female vote against a bill requiring background checks for firearm purchases. She leaves to go work for the other side fighting to pass the bill, taking her crew with her, all except for Jane Molloy (Allison Pill). She remains behind and asks for a raise.
Is there some personal history that would explain Miss Sloane's decision? The story turns on our lack of backstory. No flashbacks, folks. No gun violence revealed in her childhood. But that doesn't mean her crew might not have experienced such barbarity. Miss Sloane is not only willing to use such a personal history but she's ready. She leaves no stone unturned, no file unread, no internet device unhacked. The most remarkable aspect of the film is how viewers don't question this pristine--no doubt Ivy League educated--female's access to back alley nerds, the techno-henchman of the 21st century. The back alley scenes are dark, wet and dirty. No secret knocks, but Chastain does look over her shoulder before entering.
She appears to be winning public opinion in the gun control battle and her former firm calls for an "inquisition" into her tactics. Miss Sloane anticipated this. The pressure mounts. A few more cracks appear in her façade: she throws some stuff around in the privacy of her office. Still, Chastain makes it a momentous desk-clearing. A few exhausted tears, and more pills slide down her throat while she plans her next move. Make sure you surprise them is her motto.
Miss Sloane is in control of her future. She's all about choices. Prepare for the post-truth ride. You'll be surprised.
Opens: Nov. 25 (EuropaCorp. USA)
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alisson Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, David Wilson Barnes, Dylan Baker, Raoul Bhaneja, Chuck Shamata, Christine Baranski
Director: John MaddenScreenwriter: Jonathan Perera