Friday , October 20 2017

Chastain enlivens ‘Miss Sloane’ – Portman taking on an icon in ‘Jackie’

This image released by Europa shows Jessica Chastain in a scene from ‘Miss Sloane’. (AP)
This image released by Europa shows Jessica Chastain in a scene from ‘Miss Sloane’. (AP)

There’s never a hair out of place in “Miss Sloane”, a painstakingly slick political thriller from director John Madden about a brilliant lone wolf lobbyist consumed with the win. It’s a wannabe Aaron Sorkin-meets-Shonda Rhimes glimpse into the hollow and cynical world of inside the beltway dealings from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera that’s never quite snappy, insightful or salacious enough to be as fun or damning as it should be.

Elizabeth Slone’s mantra is that lobbying is all about foresight and making sure you play your trump card after the other guys play theirs. Our first glimpse of her in action shows her willfully neglecting Senate ethics rules by arranging some luxury travel for a congressman and his family to try to sway him on a palm oil tax initiative. She’s a mercenary who is out for the win at all costs, and she’s the best at it.All the pieces are there, especially in the film’s subject — the steely Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a pill-popping master manipulator who is always at the ready with a perfect quip, biblical verse or history lesson for the moment. She’s the kind of do-it-all wonder woman who is just as comfortable working a room of scuzzy Washington insiders or pleading the fifth at an intimidating congressional hearing as she is directing a team of spooks to illegally surveil someone with a camera-equipped cockroach.

But she also has principles, and leaves her top firm for the opposition when a powerful gun group asks her to devise messaging to turn women against universal background checks for gun ownership. Her cavalier dismissal of a massive new client for her firm enrages her boss, a scenery chewing Sam Waterston, and makes the audience a little more intrigued about why this woman does what she does.

Now fighting for the underdogs, an increasingly obsessed, Elizabeth uses everything at her disposal to try to ensure that the background check bill passes, testing the loyalty and limits of those around her (including the firm’s head played by Mark Strong, and an ambitious protégé in Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her sliding morality and deep distrust of others. Relationships are nothing but arsenal (and thus disposable) and she’s the only one who will ever know the grand plan.

Close

The only person who manages to get close to Elizabeth is an inquisitive male escort with a heart of gold (Jake Lacy) who gets her to say that she chose to forgo a simpler life with kids and family and whatnot for her job. That life wasn’t for her in her early 20s and isn’t for her now, in her late 30s, either. It’s not the most revealing conversation, but we’ve let many a male character get away with far less.

While it is fun to see Chastain as a powerful boss lady, raising a martini glass to her competitors (including a sniveling Michael Stuhlbarg) who she’s just publicly embarrassed with another move of political cunning, the story itself just skates along an already well-established surface of corrupt Washington narratives. It fails to add any distinctive flair to the genre, and, despite its sleek composition and top-notch talent (including John Lithgow as a congressman), seems more like prestige television than anything else.

Then there’s the matter of timing. “Miss Sloane” has the misfortune of coming out in this political moment. Crafted in a different climate about a still-relevant issue, it should have been more resonant. Instead, through no fault of its own, it already feels woefully out of date.

“Miss Sloane”, a EuropaCorp release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language and some sexuality.” Running time: 132 minutes. Two stars out of four.

A new film about Jacqueline Kennedy, one of the most photographed yet private women of the 20th century, attempts to get behind her mystique by blending factual events with imagination in the week after the 1963 assassination of her husband, President John. F. Kennedy.

“Jackie” opens in US movie theaters on Friday and Reuters spoke recently with actress Natalie Portman about her critically acclaimed performance. Following are edited excerpts.

Question: What was your perception of Jacqueline Kennedy before this film?

Answer: I didn’t really have much knowledge about her at all. I really was very much, like most people, familiar with her through the image.

Q: Which of her many facets was the most challenging to capture?

A: Recreating the assassination. You have so much liberty when you don’t really know what happened. When she is talking to the priest or her best friend, or to Bobby (Kennedy) you are free to play. But the assassination is so unimaginable and the Zapruder film (of the assassination) is so iconic that it felt very scary to do something that extreme emotionally which is constricted by reality.

Q: You did a lot of research. What was the most helpful?

A: Her 1962 White House tour for TV was very helpful. We recreated that exactly, shot for shot. I learned how to be exact to her cadences, and where she takes a pause, and also the accent. She did a whole series of interviews with historian Arthur Schlesinger to help define the (Kennedy) legacy.

Q: Was the Kennedy family involved in this movie?

A: No. I think we have all the respect in the world for them and I can only imagine that it is painful.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

A: That’s the beautiful thing of the film that (Chilean director) Pablo Larrain has made — it’s not prescribing what you should think. You’re seeing many different sides of a complicated woman. You see her strength and her vulnerability, her moments of being wild, her moments of being very controlled, her responsibility and her impulsiveness.

Q: Did you like her?

A: I think you can’t judge your character when you play her, or else you wouldn’t be able to. Now, having come to the other side, I love her. I have so much admiration for her and how she overcame this unbelievable tragedy and made a life that was really influential. (Agencies)

By Lindsey Bahr

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