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dir John Madden
scr Jonathan Perera
prd Ben Browning, Kris Thykier, Ariel Zeitoun
with Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, Dylan Baker, Raoul Bhaneja, Al Mukadam, Douglas Smith
release US 25.Nov.16, UK 17.Feb.17
16/Canada Europa 2h12
Thick skin required: Mbatha-Raw and Chastain
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
With a Sorkin-ish script and a thriller-ish plot, this political drama is both thoughtful and intriguing. Its rapid-fire dialog and twisty narrative keep the audience gripped as it trawls through the grubby depths of Washington DC lobbying. What the film has to say about the system isn't terribly hopeful, and some plot points strain the credibility, but it's sharply played and darkly entertaining.
Top lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) switches sides just before a gun control bill heads to the Senate. Teamed with Rodolfo (Strong) and Esme (Mbatha-Raw) to argue for more background checks, her former colleagues (Stuhlbarg, Waterston and Pill) are now her opponents. And she goes for broke, compartmentalising her private life into appointments with a high-class escort (Lacy). The fight before her is tricky, taking a number of surprising turns. For her, being a lobbyist is all about understanding what the next move will be and holding her trump card for just the right moment.
Elizabeth is a juicy character, and Chastain has a great time charging through scenes like a tornado, always in control of everything and everyone. Thankfully, Chastain undermines the rampaging arrogance with subtle glances that add likeable depth to the character. No one else on-screen has much of a chance opposite her, although Mbatha-Raw is riveting as a complex woman who keeps her head as things spin out of control around her. And of the men, Lacy has the most intriguing role as a guy who manages to get under Elizabeth's skin.
Madden directs in a crisp, sharp style that assures us we don't actually need to listen to the relentless dialog, much of which is basically just atmosphere (repeated discussions about palm oil might as well have been about red herrings). And writer Perera is good at making sure we do hear the most important bits. But at over two hours, the film feels long and rather exhausting. And there are stretches during which a quick nap might not make much of a difference.
That said, this is an astute exploration of the lobbying culture in America's capital. The manipulation, bribery and outright extortion are shockingly believable, echoed in a comment that politicians are more dedicated to keeping their jobs than to serving the public. And for all of the corruption on display in this movie, from subtle encouragement to outright criminality, there's also the sense that the real world is much, much worse than this.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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