Movies have a multitude of purposes; some are there to entertain, others to inform. When it comes to politics, cinema provides an immersive and often unforgettable platform to comment on society, to reimagine real-life events, to help us understand complex issues, or to warn us of possible futures. For a wealth of reasons, when politics and cinema mix, the results are rarely dull.
#MissSloane is another worthy addition to the political thriller genre, focusing on lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who is hired by a D.C. lobbying firm to campaign for a new gun control bill. For every insight into governmental practices, the film also packs a punch, with a fitting commentary on patriarchy and the power struggles women face.
It's been heavily speculated that awards season glory could be coming Miss Sloane's way, with #JessicaChastain in contention for a slew of Best Actress nominations. And it's not difficult to see why; as well as being thought-provoking, this film is a throwback to traditional structures of intellectually stimulating thrillers.
As an antidote to popcorn-munching blockbusters, and a prelude to the film's limited release on November 25 and wide release on December 9th (as well as a good excuse to revisit some of Hollywood's finest), check out some of the most thrilling of all political #thrillers below.
11. 'The Ides Of March' (2011)
Director: George Clooney
Every so often, a film comes along in which everything falls perfectly into place; the screenplay, the concept, the cast and the execution align perfectly. The Ides of March is such a film, focusing on the relationship between charismatic and no-nonsense campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) and presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney).
With a strong cast all at the top of their game, an abundance of chemistry between the A-list leads, and twists and turns from beginning to end, it's one of the most captivating political thrillers of this generation.
10. 'Argo' (2012)
Director: Ben Affleck
Like Clooney (who also helped produce Argo), Ben Affleck is acting royalty who has made the seamless transition to director. Based on true events, the film focuses on the ingenious rescue of hostages from the Embassy of the United States, Tehran in Iran, proving that, sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction.
Unsurprisingly, the film was littered with acclaim and award recognition, including seven Oscar nominations (and three wins) — although Affleck was cruelly overlooked for Best Director.
9. 'State Of Play' (2009)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
As crusaders of truth, the Fourth Estate and the personification of free speech, journalists are often at the center of conspiracy thrillers, working on behalf of the audience to unpick great mysteries.
In the murky world of political secrecy, Russell Crowe stars as a tenacious reporter who investigates the suspicious death of a Congressman Stephen Collins' (Ben Affleck) mistress. As political thrillers go, State of Play is intense, unpredictable and gripping.
8. 'Body Of Lies' (2008)
Director: Ridley Scott
Moving away from US soil and to the Middle East, Scott's spy thriller — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Mark Strong — lacks the authenticity and grounding of the films already on the list, but is worth a watch all the same.
Looking past some conventional stereotypes of the genre, the performance of the three leads — as well as an interesting take on distant surveillance versus in-the-field-action — makes this an enjoyable two hours of entertainment.
7. 'Snowden' (2016)
Director: Oliver Stone
Considering that the whistleblowing controversy of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks also fits the "real life is harder to believe" category, it was only a matter of time before those events were transferred to the big screen.
Director Oliver Stone often uses the medium of film to tackle political issues, and Snowden is no different. Painfully relevant and a story that everyone should digest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of the former CIA programmer will raise many uncomfortable questions about surveillance and government secrecy.
6. 'In The Line Of Fire' (1993)
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
The perfect political thriller finds a balance between full-on action and subtlety — In the Line of Fire is such a film, focusing on the only remaining active agent (Clint Eastwood) from the JFK detail at the time of his assassination in 1963. The story follows his attempt to prevent history repeating, after discovering an assassination plot on the current president. It's clever, well-written and well-directed.
5. 'All The President’s Men' (1976)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Back to those crusaders of truth. All the President's Men focuses on the efforts of two journalists who investigate the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post, resulting in a movie that is possibly one of the best arguments for an impartial and free press.
With outstanding performances from acting greats Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, and supported by Hal Halbrook (as whistleblower "Deep Throat"), this is a film that every movie lover needs to see.
4. 'The Manchurian Candidate' (2004)
Director: Jonathan Demme
An updated and reimagined version of the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate stars Denzel Washington as Ben Marco, a former soldier who begins to unpick an elaborate conspiracy surrounding his US Army unit before launching a career in politics. It's chilling in its execution and potentially even better than the original.
3. 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1956)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
#Hitchcock was known to remake his own material, with this version based on his 1934 movie of the same name. Focused more on the conspiracy than on the intricate workings of government, the plot involves a couple (played by James Stewart and Doris Day) who stumble upon an assassination plot.
2. 'JFK' (1991)
Director: Oliver Stone
Despite the fateful day occurring 53 years ago, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is still a hot topic for conspiracy debate. Starring Kevin Costner, Oliver Stone's thriller examining the lead-up to JFK's death and the subsequent cover-up is one of the most hard-hitting and well-made on this subject. However, #JFK faced much controversy following its release, with Stone accused of historical inaccuracy.
1. 'Syriana' (2005)
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Films do much more than simply entertain, as evidenced by the movies included on this list. Syriana is a prime example of a move that is entrenched with political messages, this time about the the global influence of the oil industry and the impact it has on society. Now 11 years old, tragically this film's messages are still as current as ever, with little having changed in global attitude.
Miss Sloane hits on theaters November 25.
Is your political worldview influenced by cinema?
[Image credit: Jessica Chastain, EuropaCorp]