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Watching the political thriller "Miss Sloane," I couldn't help but think about "SpaceCamp."
For those who don't remember their '80s movies, "SpaceCamp" (1986) was an adventure movie about a group of teens (including Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston and Joaquin Phoenix) who got to train like real astronauts and are accidentally launched on a space shuttle.
"SpaceCamp" might have been a hit, had it not been overtaken by a real event: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The movie's space accident was too similar to the Challenger's malfunction for comfort, and "SpaceCamp's" release was delayed for months and the movie tanked when it finally did hit theaters.
Like "SpaceCamp," "Miss Sloane" a movie that depicts a hotshot D.C. lobbyist fighting to get a gun-control bill through Congress is likely doomed to feel hopelessly out of date because of the reality of Donald Trump's America.
That's too bad, because "Miss Sloane" serves up plenty that's worth seeing, from Jessica Chastain's take-no-prisoners performance to the sly ways director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") and rookie screenwriter Jonathan Perera condemn the lobbying industry.
When we first see Elizabeth Sloane, Chastain's character, she's taking the oath before a congressional investigative committee. She's been accused of influence peddling, and Rep. Ron M. Sterling (John Lithgow), the committee's chairman, aims to destroy her.
The story flashes back to how this started. Sloane is a top lobbyist in a major K Street firm, whose boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) offers her its biggest client: the gun lobby. (Note that the letters "N," "R" and "A" are never used in sequence in this movie.)
Sloane angrily turns down the offer and quits the firm on the spot. She takes most of her assistants with her with the notable exception of her hyper-efficient right-hand person, Jane Molloy (Alison Pill), who opts to stay with the bigger firm. Sloane accepts an offer by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) to join his boutique lobbying firm, which has the seemingly impossible job of challenging the gun lobby to pass a universal background-check bill.
Sloane takes charge of her crew and Schmidt's already established team led by the whipsmart Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who hides the very personal reason she's a gun-control advocate. She's not the only one with something to hide, as Sloane retreats to a D.C. hotel for occasional sessions with a male escort (Jake Lacy).
Beyond the arguments over gun laws which will sound timid to supporters of sensible firearms restrictions and treasonous to Second Amendment absolutists Perera's script pursues more fascinating territory by dissecting the win-at-all-costs philosophy of lobbying that both Sloane and Dupont's side deploy, and how poisonous that belief is to the body politic.
Madden presents all this as a slick and well-paced thriller, where double dealing happens over polished conference tables and surprise twists are revealed within glass-walled offices. He also draws energy from a strong cast, topped by Chastain's killer performance as Sloane, a frosty manipulator who holds her cards close to her chest up to the cleverly shocking finale.
The question is whether anyone is listening. With Republicans in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress, a movie depicting a serious debate over gun control is as fantastical as a story about a talking dragon. Even people tired of politics, after the rough ride of the presidential election, should find "Miss Sloane" a smart take on what's gone wrong with the system.
A high-powered lobbyist works to pass a gun-control bill through Congress in this smart and polished thriller.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Dec. 9.
Rating • R for language and some sexuality.
Running time • 132 minutes.