This insight comes from top lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a chilly, brilliant ball-buster, who we meet pleading the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing. We then flash back a few months, following as Sloane jumps from a big firm to a smaller shop working on gun control.
For Sloane, it’s the challenge of winning a tough fight. She’s hyper-competitive and addicted to her job, even as she is being dangerously consumed by it. In her sleek suits and vivid red lipstick, Sloane reads as a caricature of the sub-zero Power Woman, and there’s little attempt to give her any interior life other than some soap-opera shorthand: She pops pills, eats alone every night. (And yet, if Sloane were a man, would this presentation feel quite so demeaning?) Still, one of her trump cards is self-knowledge: If she is a ticking time bomb, then perhaps she can be detonated somewhere useful.
It’s a one-woman show for Chastain, who makes the unlikable Sloane eminently watchable, with back-up from reliables like Mark Strong, Michael Stuhlbarg and John Lithgow, plus relative newcomers Alison Pill and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Miss Sloane flirts with being critical about the actual collusion between corporations, lobbyists and government, but this is ultimately a melodrama; there are convenient twists, and if anything denotes that Sloane is not fact-based, it’s the hurtling speed at which this occurs. (The alligators in the real Washington swamp are very logy.) Fans of House of Cards should enjoy this — it has a similar focus on a take-no-prisoners maverick who stakes it all on being more conniving than the other devils in the room. And the “lobbying” here is entertaining movie-style spy craft, with tricks, disinformation and even a killing!