MISS SLOANE (15, 132 mins) Thriller/Romance. Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Douglas Smith, Ennis Esmer, Noah Robbins, Grace Lynn Kung, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy. Director: John Madden.

Released: May 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

On the campaign trail, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington D.C. and restore integrity to American politics.

The lead character of John Madden's riveting political thriller is one of those egregious pond-dwellers.

Portrayed to icy perfection by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Elizabeth Sloane is a cut-throat lobbyist, who shrewdly anticipates her opponents' moves and devises cunning counter-measures as she manipulates the hearts and minds of power players on Capitol Hill.

A pill-popping insomniac with trump cards up her designer label sleeves, she's a delicious anti-heroine for a modern age of appearance-driven politics - someone to secretly root for as she unapologetically wrecks lives in her relentless pursuit of glory.

Like Glenn Close's duplicitous Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, Elizabeth is a self-made angel of destruction, who snarls at the supposed frailties of her sex.

Time is money and scratching a carnal itch is rationalised as a transaction devoid of sentiment, sealed with an envelope of cash for a hunky male escort (Jake Lacy).

"Why don't you quit?" a colleague asks, when the odds stacked against her appear insurmountable.

"And do what?" she counters tartly.

First-time scriptwriter Jonathan Perera arms his crisply suited combatants with whip-smart dialogue for bruising verbal exchanges.

Winning, at any price, favours the wilfully reckless.

Elizabeth's current firm of Cole Kravitz & Waterman, headed by George Dupont (Sam Waterston), implores her to lobby against the contentious Heaton-Harris bill, which is poised to go before Congress and proposes more rigorous background checks for firearm purchases.

She refuses and defects to rivals Peterson Wyatt, run by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), taking with her four ambitious juniors: Alex (Douglas Smith), Brian (Ennis Esmer), Franklin (Noah Robbins) and Lauren (Grace Lynn Kung).

Surprisingly, her personal assistant Jane (Alison Pill) refuses to bite the legal hand that feeds her and remains at Cole Kravitz & Waterman.

"You are delusional if you think you can survive without me," snarls Elizabeth.

In modest, new surroundings, Elizabeth tests her reputation as a woman with a "gold medal in ethical limbo" by marshalling support for the bill.

She personally selects Peterson Wyatt high-flyer Esme Manucharian (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as the campaign's media figurehead.

Elizabeth's tactics reap rewards and, in retaliation, Dupont searches for evidence of illegal practices that will force his former golden girl to stand trial at a hearing chaired by Congressman Ron M Sperling (John Lithgow).

Miss Sloane unfolds largely in flashback in order to conceal scriptwriter Perera's sly plotting.

Chastain is imperious, revealing tiny chinks in her character's polished armour as she teeters precariously on the precipice of self-annihilation.

Robust support from co-stars and more than one final reel surprise ensure we're avid spectators to this modern-day hunger games of brazen one-upwomanship.


ALIEN: COVENANT (15, 122 mins) Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller/Action/Romance. Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo. Director: Ridley Scott.

Released: May 12 (UK & Ireland)

If Ridley Scott's seminal 1979 sci-fi horror Alien and the anthology it spawned teach us anything, it's that in the inky void of space, everyone can hear your bloodcurdling screams.

Alien: Covenant confirms another disheartening fact: every time the thrice Oscar nominated director from South Shields revisits his beautifully stylised universe, he tarnishes the golden lustre of the original film.

Set approximately 10 years after humdrum events of the 2012 prequel Prometheus, this battle royale between humanity and cinema's most perfect killing machine compounds artistic sins by hardwiring into our nostalgia for Scott's other sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner.

Do androids dream of electric sheep? No, they fantasize about something far grander here - gods and acid-blooded monsters - evidenced by a quasi-philosophical and ponderous prologue that loudly trumpets a central motif: creation.

It's a bitter irony, then, that Scott and his vast array of technical wizards spend the next two hours committing an act of plodding and ponderous recreation.

Covenant labours in the shadow of earlier films and has been crudely bolted together by screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper with derivative action set-pieces that give birth to a new hybrid of extraterrestrial nasty - the neomorph - with translucent milky skin and a gait more akin to humans.

Or as one character pithily describes us: "a dying species, grasping for resurrection".

The action initially unfolds on the Weyland-Yutani Corporation vessel Covenant, which is bound for a remote planet with 15 crew and 2,000 colonists in cryogenic stasis.

Synthetic android Walter (Michael Fassbender) keeps watch until a neutrino burst from a star causes a "destructive event" that prematurely wakes the crew including devoutly religious first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) and his biologist wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), head of security Lope (Demian Bichir) and the captain's plucky wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston).

They stumble upon a distress signal containing a snippet of John Denver's classic Take Me Home, Country Roads, broadcast from a nearby planet that sensors reveal would make an idyllic new home.

"It's too good to be true," warns Daniels as a landing party prepares to investigate.

Alien: Covenant joins the dots to the original trilogy with strong echoes of Sigourney Weaver's exploits as Ripley, meekly mimicked here by Waterston.

Jump-out-of-your-seat scares have been eradicated from the picture's DNA and the script's sleight of hand is clumsy.

In the year 2104, characters are evidently none the wiser about the tattered rules of surviving a horror film - don't have sex, don't wander off alone, don't assume the killer is dead - and sign their death warrants with hilarious predictability.

Before Scott nestles in the director's chair for another instalment, he should take heed of Daniels' doom-laden words: "It's a monumental risk not worth taking."