The political film ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ inexplicably mixes messages
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd
“Politics have no relation to morals.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
I suppose if one polled the American people, a vast majority – these days - would probably agree with Machiavelli’s statement. If this perception on politics is, in fact, reality, then imagine the corrupt, behind-the-scenes street fight it takes to actually get elected into office. Dirty tricks, coercion, guerrilla marketing, and lies might only be the tip of this crooked iceberg. Political campaigns are about one thing, winning. In “Our Brand Is Crisis”, a Bolivian presidential candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) is behind by 28 points, so, in other words, he is in dire need of immediate help.
His team reaches out to a long-time political strategist (Sandra Bullock), and this former wonderkid is in seclusion after losing some tough races. Jane (Bullock) lives in an isolated cabin under peaceful but snowy conditions. She gets crafty by making ceramic bowls and gets healthy by avoiding cigarettes and alcohol. Although Jane is not necessarily happy, she is calm, and for right now, serenity is more important than contentment. Soon, however, Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) convince her to get back into the game, pull some rabbits out of her hat and get their struggling candidate, Castillo (de Almeida), elected president.
Director David Gordon Green’s (“Pineapple Express”, “Snow Angels”) movie sets up like a biting, sarcastic and dark comedy.
Jane tries to wake up her campaign-muscles in a foreign land against a very familiar opponent, her old nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Candy, of course, is the key strategist backing the leading presidential candidate, Rivera (Louis Arcella). This enticing canvas of soiled gamesmanship - between two formidable foes under an unfamiliar backdrop - has some key elements of intriguing cinema.
Bullock really shines here. For instance, Jane runs into major physical issues due to Bolivia’s high altitude, and Bullock plays into these under-the-weather elements to great comedic effect. She is supposed to be a brilliant strategist, but Jane is checked out due to her lack of excitement over Castillo’s chances and her sudden illness, and Green captures some hilarious sequences. Despite Castillo’s political stature, Jane is the most important person in the room, and the camera loves her. As an audience, we cannot take our eyes off of Jane due to the previously-mentioned humor and her wildly sharp intellect. She rattles off quotes from Muhammad Ali or Warren Beatty like an active Gatling gun sitting on a hilltop, and we hang on every word.
Unfortunately, the film falls off the rails in a few areas, and one of them ironically is due to the main focus on Jane. Jane’s main antagonists are Candy, Rivera and Castillo. Green rightfully focuses his time on Jane’s mind games which grind up the Candy/Rivera team and ensure Castillo plays ball with her decisions. On the other hand, the film never gives much (or any) insight into what Candy, Rivera and Castillo are thinking. Any worthwhile movie hero deserves an equally formidable “villain”, and the film only presents Jane’s side to the political back and forth. Candy and Rivera deliver their shots and Castillo presents resistance, but the screenplay does not reveal their internal strategies, conversations or thoughts. We usually (if not always) see the shots fired and received from Jane’s perspective, and this effect makes the film much less interesting.
The movie does hold an effective, uncivil discourse between Candy and Jane, and it tracks Castillo’s logical rise and Rivera’s fall in the polls. Come the final debate and Election Day, the sparks should fly. Inexplicably, this movie’s targeted crescendo is delivered with the enthusiasm of a paper boy on autopilot during a random weekday route.
“Our Brand Is Crisis” builds up sizable dramatic tension, but then shrugs its shoulders during the moment of “truth”. It is a real letdown. Even worse, rather than carrying through its effectual sarcastic tone, the movie turns sanctimonious. The film’s dichotomous tones do not fit nor work, as the original, cynical feel bewilderingly becomes self-righteous.
Regrettably, I was left wondering what this movie really wanted to be. Well, at least the film does not make an immoral mistake. Just a baffling one. (2/4 stars)