Our Brand is Crisis, 2015.
Directed by David Gordon Green.
Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, and Reynaldo Pacheco.
An American woman, well-versed in political campaigns, is sent to the war-torn lands of South America to help install a new leader but is threatened to be thwarted by a long-term rival.
Our Brand is Crisis is more than just the scenario Jane (Sandra Bullock) is selling to the Bolivian public in hopes of bringing her candidate Castillo from a blip on the radar to leading the polls in the presidential election; it’s also a fitting summary for the disjointed tone of the movie that seemingly wants to be an amalgamation of slapstick humor, “intelligent” *cough* obvious political insight, and grounded drama.
Director David Gordon Green has a wide variety of pictures under his belt of varying degrees of quality (he has been responsible for duds like The Sitter, to modern comedy classics such as Pineapple Express, to competently crafted independent dramas like Joe), so in the defense of Warner Brothers, he wasn’t a totally horrible choice for the job. He clearly understands different genres of filmmaking, meaning all he had to do with blend them into a functional narrative. Easier said than accomplished.
That’s the problem with Our Brand is Crisis though, nothing works and it instead suffers from an identity crisis. The focal point of the film is the rivalry between campaign strategists played by Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, but the script by Peter Straughan often feels confused, as if it’s not sure if it should turn the characters loose for some outrageous comedy, or keep things restrained and dialed back to emphasize the point that politics is ugly business.
Unfortunately, outside of a fairly ridiculous tour bus chase that actually sees Sandra Bullock mooning Billy Bob Thornton through the windows, Our Brand is Crisis opts for the clichéd conventional story about those running for office all being schemers and liars. Of course, those running these campaigns fare no better on the moral compass (Jane never even bothers to learn why Castillo wants to lead Bolivia, nor is it ever even explained to the audience) because the movie is solely about a rivalry that we never truly feel or understand due to the movie having one foot in the real world and another one in Green’s wheelhouse, desperately wanting to turn this movie into the kind of crazy, zany picture he would usually direct.
It’s all a shame because the comedic chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton is there; Bullock (played with spunk and dyed blonde hair) is determined to get her revenge victory (and her performance is solid enough to make us support her even though their history is only briefly elaborated on) while Billy Bob once again successfully plays the slimy, asshole human being that only cares about himself to perfection. Whenever they are on-screen together actually getting to do something, Our Brand is Crisis is usually enjoyable. They make audiences believe that they’re bitter enemies caught on opposite sides of a corrupt dishonorable game.
The rest of the film centers on too much political campaigning without explaining why either candidate is in the running. This also greatly hurts a couple of key moments in the ending when the film makes its full transition into straight-up drama as an attempt to hammer home what you already know and saw coming from a mile away anyway. I suppose the hilariously low-budget slanderous ads each team run are mildly amusing, but without much context it’s hard to not feel like there are missed opportunities. Look, I fully realize much of this non-existent backstory is a metaphor for politicians being glorified tools, but that doesn’t mean entire character motivations should go ignored.
The script also thinks having Sandra Bullock quote The Art of War, William Shakespeare, and Warren Beatty make for wise words of wisdom to soak into your noggin, in addition to providing a few laughs (these passages end up being a reoccurring joke that play a key part in the final debate), when in reality it’s just covering up laziness and talent. Our Brand is Crisis tries to be smart, but only artificially. It’s like listening to your pretentious friend quote stuff as he folds his arms and smirks like he’s Socrates.
Outside of being mildly entertaining, an argument could be made that Our Brand is Crisis is a fairly topical film, reminding people that (especially in an era when fucking Donald Trump and Kanye West are gaining traction as legitimate candidates), all politicians snake-oil pitch what you want to hear on the podium, only to do a 180 in office, but there’s no bite in this flick to make this cynicism sting. The entire film is a life lesson you probably already know, or at least I hope.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook