Movie review: Politics is war in ‘Our Brand is Crisis’
–Election day was Tuesday. For most of the country that meant local issues, local representatives or state bills. But it’s hard to miss the fact that the presidential election of 2016 is in full swing. It has been for some time and it will be for at least another year.
In the 2005 political documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” filmmaker Rachel Boynton explored the American political process — specifically the consultants and teams working behind the scenes to get people elected. A decade later, there is still a fascination with campaigns and the dirty work done behind the scenes.
“Our Brand Is Crisis,” which borrows the name and inspiration from that documentary, follows rival American political consultants plying their trade in a Bolivian Presidential election. For those that can’t get enough of attack ads, speeches, and political strategies, this is the movie for you.
The film focuses on Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), referred to as Calamity Jane after a string of high profile campaign failures that caused her to take a step back from her work on campaigns. Instead, she’s working on pottery and getting herself together in seclusion.
Soon Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) come to find her. They ask Jane to travel to Bolivia to help them run the campaign for Castillo (Joaquin de Almeida), who is 30 points down with just a few months left. He’s also facing a candidate that has his own American consultant, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), with whom Jane has history.
Jane agrees and makes the trip, but things get off to a rocky start. Eventually she finds her fire again, and with the help of her aide LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan) they are able to being to challenge Candy and climb in the polls.
But as Jane gets exposed to the plight of the people in Bolivia, she begins to wonder if she’s really doing the right thing helping Castillo get elected and if she can slip back into her old life.
Director David Gordon Green has a unique style and has worked on a lot of different kinds of movies — from serious dramas like “Undertow” to comedies like “The Pineapple Express.” “Our Brand Is Crisis” is a mixture of those. It has moments of seriousness and pathos, but it’s also got plenty of comedy and snark. It’s meant to be an exploration of American political operatives and a suggestion that we’ve brought that to the rest of the world.
How you feel about the state of politics in America will largely inform how you feel about the content of this film. Personally, I’m tired of the election cycle here, so I wasn’t too pumped to be seeing another ugly, American-style election play out in fictional Bolivia for 100 minutes.
Bullock is a talented actress who’s taken on a number of different roles in recent years. She does a nice job of playing the talented but flawed Jane. However, I’m not sure what we’re meant to take from her character’s sudden turn at the conclusion of the film. Perhaps it was meant to be a powerful statement about that lifestyle and job, but it’s not written well enough by Peter Straughan or executed well enough in this film. The ending, instead of feeling earned and powerful, feels abrupt and incomplete.
The other supporting actors do a fine job in their roles, too. There is some good inter-play between Bullock and Thornton as they battle for their candidates, and there are strong scenes between Bullock and the members of her team. But part of my problem is most of the characters aren’t well defined, and the ones that are aren’t particularly likeable. That makes it tough to invest in the film or the outcome, which is somewhat predictable.
“Our Brand Is Crisis” wants to tell a profound story about these characters and this world. Instead, we get something that’s mildly entertaining and just OK as it seemingly races to a conclusion. Creative and talented people worked on the film, but it didn’t coalesce into something memorable.
“Our Brand Is Crisis” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language including some sexual references. Enter with caution.
Two stars out of four.