In his casting of a ruthless, perhaps slightly demonic Washington lobbyist,
director John Madden shows wisdom in going with Jessica Chastain, an actress
of considerable range, to play the role of writer Jonathan Perera's Elizabeth
Sloane, a competitive woman of intellect with cold ambition and the power to
outfox many high-level DC oppositional forces.
While working at Cole, Kravitz & Waterman consulting firm she has adopted a
discipline to always anticipate the opponent's next move with extensive
research and preparedness, staying ahead of her competitors, anticipating
their actions, popping pills to keep anxiety at bay and meeting her physical
needs by hiring male professionals to sleep over now and then.
Making it more a con game, in which winning is the only issue, the always
chic, self-possessed (until she isn't) power queen explains directly into the
camera her guiding principle: "Play your trump card right after they play
theirs." In the meanwhile, mis-direct!
Her winning ways have made her a valuable commodity to the politically
powerful backed by their industrial clientele who feed their reelection
campaigns, and it's only inevitable that among the bodies left in her wake
are some who are brazen and determined enough to try to take her down.
Such as, in a two-year flashback, when fearsome old pro Senator Ron M.
Sperling (John Lithgow) calls her to the center table of his senate
subcommittee hearing on the subject of her breaking ethical rules. The
questioning is of the tenor of the hostile and savage accusations we see in
real hearings from the biitter side. But, she's not having it, claiming her
right to refuse responding to Sperling's questions under the protection of
the fifth amendment.
But, the withering atttacks seems to finally hit home when Sloane blasts
back, with all the arrogant invective in her armory, summoning the threat
of a charge of contempt in a second hearing which carries a potential prison
But, does she have her usual cards up her sleeve by the time of her second
hearing? Will the greatest threat to her career and well-being be a
In the midst of her wily ride she does display an ethical streak when a
second amendment group asks her to lobby on their behalf. Unfortunately,
Elizabeth is of the opposite persuasion concerning gun control and refuses to
take the offer. Pressed by her boss (Sam Waterston), she walks out of the
She also connects with the much more temperate lobbyist Esme Manucharian
(Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to give us another side of this calling: humane,
conscientious, empathetic. Manachurian, a gun victim, is awed by and
disappointed in Elizabeth, but the message that resonates is that drama
belongs to the combative.
Sure, this debut political thriller has flaws but Chastain's talent carries
the film and its dynamics despite the challenges of an anti-heroine role that
invites more scorn than sympathy. While Chastain's masterful performance may
be under-appreciated because of it, I thought she scored by keeping up the
mystery and the fascination. My hurrah for her work will go with that.
~~ Jules Brenner