A picture that may be a cautionary tale for directors but is a playbook for actors.
In an attempt to propel the audience through a story containing both equal parts speedy dialogue and slower emotional moments, director John Madden fell into the trap of modern cinema’s short memory, timing. Fast abrasive cuts always work well unless you forget one simple rule, your story can only go as fast an an audience’s eyes and as slow as their heart can beat and stay alive. Madden paces the snappy dialogue at the speed of a race car leaving a potential wreck in its wake and the slow emotional moments at the speed the dialogue should have played.
Madden seems to have forgotten while not under the guides of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, to measure emotion by the frame since it’s one of a few movements in cinema that takes time to achieve. Madden also finds himself making the use of his camera movements irrelevant as his attempts to display information in a visual sense becomes misplaced. He relegates the technique to details the audience already knows about the characters. That is rather than placing visual details that could make a second time viewing just as exciting as it could have replaced a first time viewers theorising.
These faults would have been a fatal blow to the picture and the superb screenplay from first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera. Thats if not for the talent on display from Jessica Chastain and Max Richter, which the picture survives on and places the directing and editing with all their missteps on the sidelines.
Chastain’s performance is uncompromisable portraying Elizabeth Sloane a character with no shortage of surprises up her sleeves. Despite the director and editors oversight Chastain’s performance makes it easy to wonder if there’s any film she can’t carry whether through timing faults, length or a difficult character to capture. This is undoubtedly one of her best performances to date. Alongside Chastain coming to the features rescue is Alison Pill very experienced herself with quick handed play like dialogue coming off a three season run of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
The performance experience from this shoot will no likely heighten the level of Chastain’s performance in her upcoming collaboration with Aaron Sorkin on his directorial debut Molly’s Game.
Moving into the musical undertone, none of Richter’s previous feature scores reach the achievement of his musical display here as he swiftly guides us through the scenes almost without consequence. The scoring lets you drift along with the story almost well enough you can miss a change of location while you’re focus is drawn unshakably on the characters.
Another of Madden’s prominent inflictions on the picture is the unnecessary use of superimposed locations a distracting factor that faults unnecessarily the audience’s attention. This is painful exposition, which could and sometimes was conveyed in the establishing location shots and the scenes. It also undermines the work of the costume designer, production designer and screenwriter. This failure is most likely birthed from the director attempting to compensate for the film not being shot in Washington D.C., which is strange given the film’s reported budget. In the screenplay we were able to obtain dated 1/11/2015, there were only five counted instances of superimposed text all used to establish a time. The additional unnecessary superimposed texts are under the purview of the director and editor.
Madden’s camera positioning follows his track record above and lacks style and inspiration — overlooking the ability to convey more. Instead it resembles that of a regurgitated example of structured positioning in it’s basic form, television class. That is with the exception of one scene where the audiences perspective is drawn to where the power sits in the room and more importantly where its absent.
The story takes us inside the monolithic institution of Washington’s lobbying front following the most formidable of D.C. lobbyists Elizabeth Sloane as she confronts the challenge of her career. Sloane acts as if she is playing a game of high stakes chess as she navigates the land of Washington’s power brokering. The film follows her as she is enlisted to help pass the most difficult bill she’s ever handled leading her into the territory of the most ruthless of oppositions designed to take pleasure from her career demise.
Overall despite its many directorial and editing faults, Jessica Chastain and debut screenwriter Jonathan Perera make this entire film thrilling viewing.