Miss Sloane (2016) stars Jessica Chastain as a high strung, pill-popping Washington DC lobbyist who takes on the Gun Lobby in this dead-on-arrival political thriller. Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but when her firm agrees to take on an effort to convince women to support the 2nd Amendment, she has a change of heart and joins a lobbying firm fighting for gun control.
According to IMDB.com, Miss Sloane had a budget of $18 million and made an embarrassing $59,797 in its opening weekend. As of December 14, the movie had grossed $2.6 million. Ouch. All indications point to a decent film. Good pacing, unexpected plot twists, solid acting–so what went wrong? Well, audiences don’t really want to sit through a 132 minute commercial for gun control.
Let’s start there. It’s not surprising a political thriller would have a political message, but this film wears its bias on its sleeve. It is replete with left wing stereotypes of conservatives, who it portrays as elderly white men enthralled to the gun lobby. When confronted with a plan to create a pro-gun women’s group, Miss Sloane is flabbergasted, unable to believe any woman would support an originalist view of the 2nd Amendment. (Oops, those groups already exist, WAGC and AFA to name two.) Through Miss Sloane’s later exposition, the audience is actually treated to a point-by-point refutation of arguments against gun control, making you feel like you’re attending a lecture rather than watching a movie.
Suspension of disbelief is an important element of any fiction. The audience is willing to accept incredible or fanciful events so long as those events adhere to a certain internal consistency or logic. Miss Sloane‘s premise, however, was simply unbelievable. Elizabeth Sloane is portrayed as tireless and high strung, a control freak who pays for meaningless sex, uses others to further her goals, and employs illegal surveillance techniques. She is, in short, a sociopath without empathy who until that point was willing to take on any lobbying effort as long as it paid.
So we’re expected to believe that when it comes to gun control, she suddenly feels powerful pains of conscience that lead her to put her entire career, her freedom, and her reputation on the line? Perhaps something in her past compelled her to feel so strongly about this particular issue? If so, it’s not even hinted at. Her decision to put everything on the line for this cause is simply not believable.
Equally unbelievable is her incredible foresight, in which she is able to gain the upper hand over her opponents even in the face of a Congressional investigation and jail time for illegal surveillance. The audience is led to believe Sloane anticipated these events and planned for them months in advance, all while flying around the country to put together a multi-million dollar political action committee. While a satisfying and clever ending, it stretches suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.
As an anti-lobbying film, Miss Sloane is inferior to Casino Jack (2010), a Canadian film about real-life lobbyist Jack Abramoff staring Kevin Spacey. That movie also tanked at the box office, but at least it was entertaining, clever, and true-to-life. Like Elizabeth Sloane, Jack Abramoff enjoys peddling influence, but he maintains his character to the bitter end. He never suddenly develops a conscience because the plot requires it.
People go to the movies to be entertained, to escape the stress and monotony of daily life. After a contentious election in which politics saturated the airwaves and social media, does anyone really want to sit in the theater and watch a two-hour long finger wagging session on lobbying and gun control? So far, audiences have stayed away from Miss Sloane, answering that question with a resounding, “No!”