This weekend Jessica Chastain stars in the political thriller Miss Sloane. The title refers to the lobbyist main character but the film could easily have been titled Drain the Swamp.
Made before Donald Trump became president-elect, it only takes about 20 seconds before the word “trump” crops up in the dialogue. He’s never mentioned by name, but this look at “the most morally bankrupt profession since faith healing” paints exactly the ugly picture of behind-the-scenes machinations that Trump railed against on the campaign trail.
Chastain is Elizabeth Sloane, a sleep-deprived D.C. lobbyist “at the forefront of a business with a terrible reputation.” She’ll represent anyone, it seems, except the gun lobby, who offer her a lucrative contract, only to be laughed at and rejected.
Soon after she leaves her firm — one of the biggest in the country — to join a small, scrappy group who aim to whip up support for a bill that will demand background checks for all gun owners.
It’s a new hot-button peek behind the curtain of a political process, but Hollywood has been making Drain the Swamp movies for years.
The explosive Advise and Consent is based on former New York Times congressional correspondent Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the ratification of a secretary of state and the dirty little secrets people in public life must keep hidden. Political battle lines are drawn as a full frontal attack is launched on the character and credentials of the new nominee.
Director Otto Preminger almost pulled off one of the great casting coups of the 1960s when he offered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a role in Advise and Consent. The mercurial director thought King would be perfect for the role of a southern senator, despite the fact that no African Americans were serving in Senate at the time. King gave the offer some thought, but declined fearing the backlash and possible harm to the civil right movement.
More recently, in The Ides of March George Clooney (who also directed) played a Democratic Party candidate; the kind of guy who would make the top of Bill O’Reilly’s head pop off. He’s pro-ecology, anti-oil. He wants to tax the rich and legalize gay marriage. If he leans any further left he’ll topple over.
Although Clooney has spoken out about many of these topics in real life, he didn’t make a left-wing film. Instead he made a warts-and-all political movie about dirty dealings on the campaign trail.
The first hour is good stuff, great acting from Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman and a fascinating, if occasionally dry look at life in the political fast lane. Then comes the blackmail, the meetings in darkened stairwells and double-crossing journalists.
Finally The Campaign, a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as incumbent congressmen, begins with a quote from former presidential hopeful Ross Perot: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.”
Neither does the movie; no rules or boundaries. These candidates go beyond the usual name-calling — “He looks like Osama Bin Laden” — to dirty tricks that would make Tricky Dick blush. It’s a through-the-looking glass-vision of how politics works that features ambition, greed, corruption and even a candidate who punches a baby.