Skip to main content

The smartest operative on the hill just got played by Grampa Simpson.

Miss Sloane
(2016)

(SPOILERS) John Madden’s name as director might be a clue that this exploration of the world of political lobbying isn’t going to be altogether successful; one might give a pass to his inoffensive pensioner pictures (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel) but otherwise he hasn’t delivered a truly satisfying feature since the Oscar glory that (rightly) greeted Shakespeare in Love. As usual, he’s only as serviceable as his screenplay, and this one is all sorts of uneven.

Jessica Chastain’s title character is a too-familiar cliché, the workaholic career woman with no time for relationships (she hires male escorts to satisfy any carnal cravings) and less time for small talk. Everything is a calculated move, as the introductory scene tells us, predicting your opponent’s move before they predict yours (“It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”), and she applies this maxim to all aspects of her life. There’s a rather crafty resulting twist, rather proving her point, but it only succeeds in being a crafty twist because the picture is so wayward and uncollected that you’ve long since forgotten her “ethos” by the time she reaches the point of proving it.

And the worst thing about Madden’s movie, by Jonathan Perera, is that it insists on giving Sloane a good heart, despite being part of a ruthless, inherently corrupt industry (she’s “the poster child for the most morally bankrupt profession since faith healing”) and willing to manipulate and betray colleagues in order to shoot for the bigger prize. We’re supposed to give her a big huzzah at the end, but I wish first-time screenwriter (or first time with a produced screenplay anyway) Jonathan Perera had stuck to the guns of his premise. Much of the dialogue in the round-table discussions with her juniors reeks of artifice calculated to give Sloane over-scripted put-downs and a superior seen-it-all, done-it-all voice; the only positive side of this is that in scenes where there is actualartifice (her assistant Alison Pill electing not to go with her when she moves to a rival firm), the fakery doesn’t stand out as any differently written. I’m not sure that should be a compliment, though.

There’s also something crushingly banal about the subject matter, as if the makers couldn’t have seized upon a more liberal-friendly area and thus one lacking in teeth; even Sloane is opposed to the gun lobby on principle, and not even – as others keep insinuating – because she lost someone close to her. Everyone on the pro-gun side is morally indefensible, and everyone besides Sloane opposed to it is whiter-than-white. The only note of dissonance is cast by her lawyer (David Wilson Barnes) who, once the bill requiring universal background checks on gun purchases has gone through, taking down corrupt senator John Lithgow with it, observes “Congratulations, criminals must now endure the hassle of procuring their guns on the black market”.

Being spoon-fed by movies, particularly ones purporting to have a brain in their head, is never satisfying, and this one singularly fails to be inventive with the big issues, with the rival lobbying firms resorting to fairly unremarkable tactics. At one point, Perera, desperate for something to pep up the plot, has Gugu Mbatha-Raw (survivor of the “Bloomington High School Massacre of 1998”) menaced by a gunman who is then shot dead by a member of the public. In the aftermath, having been singled out because she was outed by Sloane as a survivor of the massacre, she comments “It even crossed my mind that this was all you. You just didn’t count on an armed civilian behind me”; now, if the picture had resorted to that kind of extreme behaviour, it might have had something, but as it is, the sequence comes across as a desperately contrived attempt at dramatic incident.

There’s support from the likes of Mark Strong, Sam Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg, none of whom get to be more than one-dimensional. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since neither does the lead character. Who, despite the amount of time to devoted her, fails to come alive or become interesting, either to root for or against. Still, I learnt that it’s possible to remotely control cockroaches for surveillance purposes.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I’m not the Jedi I should be.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
(SPOILERS) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the only series entry (thus far) I haven’t seen at the cinema. After the first two prequels I felt no great urgency, and it isn’t an omission I’d be hugely disposed to redress for (say) a 12-hour movie marathon, were such a thing held in my vicinity. In the bare bones of Revenge of the Sith, however,George Lucas has probably the strongest, most confident of all Star Wars plots to date.

This is, after all, the reason we have the prequels in the first place; the genesis of Darth Vader, and the confrontation between Anakin and Obi Wan. That it ends up as a no more than middling movie is mostly due to Lucas’ gluttonous appetite for CGI (continuing reference to its corruptive influence is, alas, unavoidable here). But Episode III is also Exhibit A in a fundamental failure of casting and character work; this was the last chance to give Anakin Skywalker substance, to reveal his potential …

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.