Jessica Chastain imperious as a cut-throat Washington lobbyist in Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain portrays a cut-throat lobbyist to icy perfection in Miss Sloane
Damon Smyth

ON THE campaign trail, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington DC and restore integrity to American politics. The lead character of John Madden's riveting political thriller is one of those egregious pond-dwellers.

Portrayed to icy perfection by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Elizabeth Sloane is a cut-throat lobbyist, who shrewdly anticipates her opponents' moves and devises cunning counter-measures as she manipulates the hearts and minds of power players on Capitol Hill.

A pill-popping insomniac with trump cards up her designer label sleeves, she's a delicious anti-heroine for a modern age of appearance-driven politics – someone to secretly root for as she unapologetically wrecks lives in her relentless pursuit of glory.

Like Glenn Close's duplicitous Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, Elizabeth is a self-made angel of destruction, who snarls at the supposed frailties of her sex. Time is money and scratching a carnal itch is rationalised as a transaction devoid of sentiment, sealed with an envelope of cash for a hunky male escort (Jake Lacy).

First-time scriptwriter Jonathan Perera arms his crisply suited combatants with whip-smart dialogue for bruising verbal exchanges. Winning, at any price, favours the wilfully reckless. Elizabeth's current firm of Cole Kravitz & Waterman, headed by George Dupont (Sam Waterston), implores her to lobby against the contentious Heaton-Harris bill, which is poised to go before Congress and proposes more rigorous background checks for firearm purchases.

She refuses and defects to rivals Peterson Wyatt, run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), taking with her four ambitious juniors: Alex (Douglas Smith), Brian (Ennis Esmer), Franklin (Noah Robbins) and Lauren (Grace Lynn Kung).

Surprisingly, her personal assistant Jane (Alison Pill) refuses to bite the legal hand that feeds her and remains at Cole Kravitz & Waterman.

"You are delusional if you think you can survive without me," snarls Elizabeth.

In modest, new surroundings, Elizabeth tests her reputation as a woman with a "gold medal in ethical limbo" by marshalling support for the bill. She personally selects Peterson Wyatt high-flyer Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the campaign's media figurehead.

Elizabeth's tactics reap rewards and, in retaliation, Dupont searches for evidence of illegal practices that will force his former golden girl to stand trial at a hearing chaired by Congressman Ron M Sperling (John Lithgow).

Miss Sloane unfolds largely in flashback in order to conceal scriptwriter Perera's sly plotting. Chastain is imperious, revealing tiny chinks in her character's polished armour as she teeters precariously on the precipice of self-annihilation.

Robust support from co-stars and more than one final-reel surprise ensure we're avid spectators to this modern-day hunger games of brazen one-upwomanship.

MISS SLOANE (15, 132 mins) Thriller/Romance. Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Douglas Smith, Ennis Esmer, Noah Robbins, Grace Lynn Kung, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy. Director: John Madden

RATING: 7/10

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