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Movie Review

"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu penned that cunning counsel in his treatise The Art of War some five centuries before the birth of Christ. And though she's not technically a military commander, lobbyist extraordinaire Elizabeth Sloane embraces a similar philosophy

"Lobbying is about foresight," Sloane tells her lawyer early on. "About anticipating your opponents' moves. And devising countermeasures. The winner plots one step ahead of the opposition. And plays her trump card just after they play theirs. … It's about making sure you surprise them. And they don't surprise you."

For Miss Sloane, lobbying is about much more than passionately pitching an idea to a would-be backer in Congress. It's about more than having a prestigious job or cashing in a big paycheck. For Elizabeth Sloane, lobbying for the causes she believes in is everything. And winning, on her terms, her way, is the only thing that matters.

Which is why she never loses. And why she doesn't play by anyone's rules but her own.

When her boss, George Dupont, asks her to work with a major firearm advocacy group on a campaign designed to defeat a gun-control bill headed for a vote, Sloane laughs in their faces. She has no interest in the assignment she's been given: trying to convince women that stricter gun control leaves them more vulnerable to violence because it will be harder for them to defend themselves.

In a blink, Sloane's recruited by a rival lobbying firm working to get the would-be law, the Heaton-Harris Bill, passed. Most of her team is enamored by her dramatic, unpredictable, take-no-prisoners approach to lobbying. Her new supervisor, Rodolfo Schmidt, initially admires how Sloane's, ahem, unorthodox approach—combined with her utter self-confidence—pays instant dividends. One potential vote after another, Sloane has a way of convincing politicians of the unimpeachable righteousness of her cause.

But righteousness, actually, isn't something Elizabeth Sloane is concerned with at all. If she has to lie, threaten, bribe, entrap, surveil, manipulate, blackmail or otherwise intimidate politicians into seeing things her way, she'll do it in a heartbeat. "I was hired to win," she tells one coworker who's aghast at her often immoral methods. She says she has no duty to anyone's feelings or even life, only to the cause. "The end is my concern," she tells a group of peers. "You liberal goody-goods can worry about the means."

Miss Sloane's scorched-earth approach to lobbying does yield results. But it also leaves her vulnerable to being burned by the very fires she sets in her pursuit of victory at any cost.

Positive Elements

Elizabeth Sloane is a sort of antihero here. She's neither good nor kind. One of the few positive things that can be said of her is that she's tenacious beyond belief—but tenacious to a fault, because there aren't many ethical or moral lines she won't cross. Eventually, however, she does admit to someone, "I didn't know where the line was. … I never know where the line is." That woman responds, "You crossed the line when you stopped treating other people with respect."

To its credit, the film surrounds her with characters who admire Sloane but who increasingly question her lack of a moral core. One coworker labels her "utterly contemptible." Rodolfo says she's "morally reprehensible" and refuses to go along with her plans to spy on one senator so she can blackmail him. Another key character, who's suffered from a gun-related tragedy of her own, realizes that her story is just another tool for Sloane to manipulate. Ultimately, Sloane does pay a legal price for her unethical, illegal activities.

In a broad way, Miss Sloane could be interpreted as a condemning glimpse behind the curtain at the corrupt and decadent goings-on in our federal government. None of the politicians here come out looking good, as several of them are manipulated and played by behind-the-scenes lobbyists and the big money that they represent. Sloane says during her congressional testimony, "Our system is rotten. it rewards rats who are willing to sell out our country to keep their noses in the trough." (I'll return to this theme in Other Negative Elements.)

[Spoiler Warning] The film's final scene finds Sloane talking with her lawyer after she's been convicted of multiple crimes and sent to prison for five years. He tells her that she's committed "career suicide." But she corrects him, saying that her obsessive, unhealthy enslavement to her job as a lobbyist was actually "suicide by career." It's implied that being imprisoned was something that Sloane had intentionally masterminded all along, the only way that she could get the distance she needed to come to grips with her life.

Spiritual Content

There's a joke about a priest trying to take sexual advantage of a nun. Another person quips, "God created humans, Samuel Colt made them equal." A group of people are referred to as the "God squad." Sloane's lawyer tells her, "Get ready to be crucified." We see Sloane meeting with a women's group at a church. Someone exclaims, "Please, God!" Conservative lobbyists characterize a heroic man as "a gift from God."

Sexual Content

Sloane has something of a standing appointment with a male prostitute. In their first business-like encounter, we see her removing her shirt (her bra is visible), while he's shirtless in bed. Their second tryst includes explicit sounds and motions, though the camera is focused very closely on Sloane's face throughout. After they're through, Sloane tells him, "I pay you so I can imagine a life I chose to forgo in the pursuit of my career." A final would-be round of intercourse is interrupted when Sloane bursts into tears and says she's just not in a place emotionally where she can go through with it. We see her paying her "escort" (as he calls himself) for each encounter. The man, Forde, seems interested in an actual relationship with Sloane, but she firmly resists, telling him that if they ever run into each other outside their regular hotel room rendezvous spot, "We're strangers."

Several conversations crudely and jokingly reference the male anatomy and sex toys. Sloane mocks a conservative opponent of gay rights who changed his position after his brother came out.

Violent Content

When one of Sloane's team members, Esme, gets assaulted by a man who threatens to shoot her because of Esme's efforts to restrict access to guns, a civilian with a legal conceal-and-carry permit shoots and kills the assailant, saving her life. He's hailed as a hero (much to the consternation of Miss Sloane's current lobbying firm).

Elsewhere, there's a conversation about someone who hid in a locker during a school shooting when she was in high school. In a moment of discouragement and rage, Sloane sweeps papers off of a table.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 20 f-words (including one paired with "mother"), and 15 s-words. God's name is abused about five times (including twice with "d--n"), while Jesus' name is misused about half a dozen times. We hear "a--" and "h---" about five times each. Other profanities include "b--ch," "d---" "d--k" and "p-ss."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Sloane has a serious drug problem. She uses prescription medication to keep her awake and other meds to help her sleep. Throughout the film after tense confrontations, we see her furtively popping pills. It's not a very well-kept secret, however, as Sloane's habit eventually gets revealed in a damaging testimony before Congress in an attempt to discredit her character.

Several scenes (including one in a bar) depict social drinking of beer, wine and champagne. Someone smokes.

Other Negative Elements

Miss Sloane deals with the subject of gun control, quoting many facts and figures along the way. That in and of itself is not problematic. However, the film depicts liberals as the heroes on this issue and conservatives as vile, greedy and evil. The words Democrat and Republican are never used, but it's clear who's who.

The result is a film with a very heavy-handed philosophical take on a controversial issue. It lionizes one side and demonizes the other in caricatured, black-and-white terms. Conservative senators and congressmen are repeatedly shown to be craven cowards who can be bent to the will of big business and are easily malleable in the hands of manipulative lobbyists. In order to combat Elizabeth Sloane's increasingly successful attempts to influence politicians to vote for the gun-control bill, her former boss and a conservative Senator collude to file charges against her and to bring her before a congressional hearing.

During the hearing, someone lies on behalf of Sloane on the witness stand. Then Sloane herself reveals her final trump card: illegally obtained video and audio footage that implicates the politician and the lobbyist who've conspired to bring her down.

Conclusion

Every movie and every director has a point of view. Many have a position or an agenda that they're advocating, biases and sympathies that may be subtle or obvious.

In Miss Sloane, the filmmakers' political biases blare like the bugle of a herald's trumpet. They're impossible to miss. And in this case, I suspect that they're a litmus test for how viewers will likely respond to this character who'll do nearly anything to bring down the wicked, greedy conservatives who oppose any conversation about gun control. About halfway through the movie, an older couple sitting in my row got up and left. I didn't wonder why.

The issue of gun control is an important, complex one. And the movie hints at that complexity with some of the facts and figures it bandies about. But the film dispenses with nuance in its stereotyped depiction of everyone who questions stricter gun-control laws here. Those characters aren't represented as principled individuals who have another opinion, a legitimate constitutional concern. They're depicted as people who are wrong. And in the case of the conservative lobbyists, politicians and gun company execs we see, they're depicted as nefarious bogeymen.

Which is ironic, really, given Sloane's nearly complete lack of a moral compass herself. And even though the movie pays lip service to the fact that many of Sloane's choices are immoral and illegal, it slyly invites us to root for her nevertheless.

We're living in a time of intense cultural and political polarization. Miss Sloane determinedly pitches its compelling (though at times racy and profane) story to one side of that divide. The result is a missed opportunity to deal seriously with two significant subjects: gun control and government corruption.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Jessica Chastain as Elizabeth Sloane; Mark Strong as Rodolfo Schmidt; Alison Pill as Jane Molloy; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Esme Manucharian; John Lithgow as Senator Ron M. Sperling; Michael Stuhlbarg as Pat Connors; Jake Lacy as Forde; Sam Waterston as George Dupont; Chuck Shamata as Bob Sanford

Director

John Madden ( )

Distributor

EuropaCorp

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 25, 2016

On Video

March 21, 2017

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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