If you are a glutton for punishment and the evening news is not providing enough political showboating and shenanigans for you then you might want to check out the new Sandra Bullock film, Our Brand Is Crisis – or maybe not.
This dramatic remake of the 2005 documentary film with the exact same title doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It misses its mark thrice-fold: as a political comedy; as a commentary on the use of deceitful marketing practices to sell political candidates; and as an analysis of American interference with foreign elections.
As someone who is actually interested in and often fascinated by strategical political maneuvering, I feel that Our Brand Is Crisis failed to deliver on its promise. It didn’t make me care at all about Bolivian politics (the regional setting for the film) and I didn’t leave the theatre knowing anything more about it than when I entered – except that Bolivians like llamas and hate the International Monetary Fund.
Bullock plays ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine, a retired political advisor who got out of the game after being involved in a campaign that prompted the suicide death of a young woman. She’s emotionally shattered and physically unkempt and she spends her days in a secluded mountain home where she devotes her time to making pottery.
Just like a reluctant hero in almost every eighties action movie, Jane is lured out of retirement to assist with a situation in Bolivia, but in this story our protagonist isn’t facing evil drug-lords, but slimy politicians trying to get elected – and Bodine has a certain set of marketing skills that a long-shot candidate like ex-President Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) might be able to use.
Castillo’s competition really isn’t any better or worse than he is, but Jane is set on beating her long-time rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton, done up to look like James Carville), who is also in South America helping another Bolivian candidate.
Along the way Bodine is assisted by her team-members: Ben (Anthony Mackie), Nell (Ann Dowd), LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan) and Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco.) The acting all around is fine, with Bullock and Thornton doing the best they can with the weak and unwieldy material they have to work with.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and written by Peter Straughan, Our Brand Is Crisis leaves a lot of loose ends when it comes to character development, especially for Jane Bodine. For instance, they make a big deal about warning you that she doesn’t like to be touched, but they never deliver an explanation for this behavior and, to make matters worse, she is routinely touched.
Another issue is a terribly awkward and out-of-place sequence that has Bodine and her team partying with poverty-stricken Bolivians as a way for her to connect with the “real” people of the country and their concerns. This is where the film strays into pretentiousness and never returns, with the ending being a full on ‘white-American-to-save-the-third-world’ scenario.
I ‘think’ the moral of the story was supposed to be that we shouldn’t be sticking our fingers into other nations’ politics, but the film’s content didn’t support that conclusion. The comedy bits in the movie work best, but even that veers into ultra-crude humor that felt out of place in a Sandra Bullock vehicle.
I hope the documentary film (written & directed by Rachel Boynton) on which this movie is based is much better than this reenactment, and if nothing else Our Brand Is Crisis made me interested in checking out the original movie. Grade: 4/10
Photos © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment