First Hit: A very engaging and intense look at winner take all lobbying through a no-holds barred lobbyist.
I didn’t have any idea what kind of life or upbringing Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) had, but to witness her "win at any cost" actions made me wonder. As one of her bosses asked; “were you born this way?”
Notwithstanding, I bought Sloane’s character because all her actions supported it. Early on there’s a statement where she says something like; one must be fully prepared so that when your opponent plays their trump card, you play your trump card, trumping theirs.
One of the beginning sequences she’s asked by George Dupont (Sam Waterston), her high-powered boss at the large lobbyist firm she works in, to support the NRA in creating a program to get women to want to become gun owners to protect their family. They want this because the lobby wants the Brady gun law bill to be defeated in the Senate. Sloane balks, and when pressed by her boss to take the assignment, she quits and joins a small boutique firm run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to lobby for the Brady bill and against her old firm. When she leaves this firm she takes most of her staff except her primary aid Jane Malloy (Alison Pill), who says she's thinking of getting out of the lobby business.
The film flashes ahead where she is being held for illegal lobbying practices in a hearing chaired by Congressman Ron M. Sperling (John Lithgow). In these flash ahead scenes, we get a sense of the pressure a congressional hearing might bring against someone.
Likewise, we see how hard she works to find out material that she can use to make her point, win the votes. In befriending Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), one of the people on her team, she sees Esme’s intelligence and commitment to this cause but also exposes her secret to the public.
Does she care? That is one of the film’s points. There are many different levels of caring and it doesn’t always look like what most people expect it to be. To this end, when she sacrifices herself to win her cause and not involve others, some of these questions are answered.
Chastain is this film. Her characters intensity, focus, and work effort to deliver on made promises is absolutely amazing. A tour de force performance. Mbatha-Raw is fantastic. The unfolding vulnerability she shows as her past is revealed is totally believable. Pill is perfect as Sloane’s work partner. Strong is really good as the head of a boutique lobbying firm. His support and questioning of Sloane’s tactics was spot-on. Lithgow as the Congressman who gets compromised was very good. His pushiness and superior attitude falling away to shock at being found out, was sublime. Waterston was very good as the head of a lobbying firm that just wants his business to grow. Jonathan Perera wrote a very interesting script. It was a fascinating look at the lobbying industry. John Madden clearly guided Chastain to take charge of the character and this movie. This was an excellent idea.
Overall: I was transfixed by Chastain’s character, which required complete commitment to her goals.