As a general rule of thumb, when a character’s name is the title of the film, you know it’s going to need a strong central performance to be anywhere near successful. Thankfully in this case Jessica Chastain more than delivers what’s required.
Elizabeth Sloane is one of the top political lobbyists in Washington DC, feared and respected by both colleagues and rivals. A clever and always busy career woman, she keeps personal relationships at arm’s length. She doesn’t seem to have any friends and uses a male escort service when in the mood for sex. It’s all about the career and the desire to win whatever battle she’s in. Employed at one of the top firms on the Capitol Hill, she is one of its best assets. However she draws the ire of her boss when she turns down a request by a pro-gun group to represent them, and help block a new Bill on gun control getting through the Senate. In fact when turning them down she, quite literally, laughs them out of the room. This leads her to quit and join a rival, less financially equipped firm, representing those in favour of the Bill. And from there an entertaining game of political one-upmanship ensues.
There are some strong supporting cast performances here. Sam Waterston (previous, power hungry boss) Micheal Stuhlbarg (ex colleague and verbal sparring partner) Alison Pill (former right hand woman and closest thing to a friend Sloane has) Mark Strong (new, more liberal boss) and John Lithgow (Senator only looking out for himself) are all excellent in smaller yet important roles. But make no mistake, this is Chastain’s show.
She portrays her characters hard nosed, blunt and ruthless nature with ease. She’s perhaps not the kind of character you would normally root for , but the beauty of the performance means she’s always watchable and you can’t help but find her somewhat likable. I say somewhat, as there are moments where she appears to cross a line, particularly with some of her subordinates, namely using a tragedy from Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Esme’s past in order to score some political points. As well as potentially using illegal surveillance techniques to gain an advantage over her rivals. Chastain does lower the steely veneer from time to time though, and lets us peek at the softer more vulnerable nature of the character that’s been hidden away. It’s this subtle balance in her performance, plus some twisty developments in the plot, that mean that by the film’s conclusion, the audience is on her side.
First time script writer Johnathan Perera has produced a slick debut effort. The influence from political themed powerhouse shows like The West Wing and House of Cards is quite evident. The verbal wit and depth on show here isn’t quite as razor sharp as those programmes, but it’s a solid and entertaining attempt. Making Perera one to watch out for in the future. Director, John Madden has diverted from his usual M:O of more light-hearted, feel good fare like Shakespere in Love, and delivered a well shot and edited, dialogue driven political thriller. But again, This is Jessica Chastain’s movie. Her memorable and mesmerizing performance elevates the whole affair, and gives the audience an entertaining and thoroughly watchable 2 hours. The film, overall, may not go down as an instant classic. But it will be remembered as another showcase for its leading lady’s considerable talents.