Directed by David Gordon Green. Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Written by Peter Straughan. Release date: October 30, 2015.
I don’t know if anyone thinks that politics is a particularly clean business to get into. From the numerous scandals to the various TV shows and movies that portray it as a dirty game, politics seems like it can turn good people bad, and bad people even worse. So, then, here we have another movie about the subject, Our Brand is Crisis, which sees both good and bad people do shady things in order to achieve a goal that may or may not be morally in the right. Business as usual, I suppose.
The film is based on a documentary of the same name from 2005, which is about the 2002 Bolivian election, which saw an American political consulting firm turn a candidate who seemed like a nonstarter into the new president of Bolivia. This new version uses fictionalized names but is about the same subject. Our lead is Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a former political consultant who is lured out of her comfortable retirement in order to help Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) win the aforementioned election. The main opposition has also hired an American firm, which is led by Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton), an opponent against whom Jane has never won, and with whom she shares a very checkered past.
As we go through the film, we watch Jane and Pat both use underhanded tactics in order to gain an edge, we begin to question their motives and their ethics, and the film makes its points about how awful the political scene can be. And thanks to a decent amount of characterization, particularly in our protagonist, we see the toll that such a practice can take on an individual, too.
Jane Bodine is something of a livewire. She knows it, the other characters know it, and we know it. That’s why she retired and now lives as a recluse in the mountains – or, sorry, between mountains, since she’s afraid of heights. The psychological damage the years of campaign managing took was too much. Now she’s back, and as the film progresses, we begin to see the return of traits of the person she used to be. That is fascinating, and Sandra Bullock pulls them off wonderfully. She’s neurotic, but captivating, and the performance definitely holds our attention.
As a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock and a film that wants to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the way a political campaign is run, Our Brand is Crisis is a success.
Our Brand is Crisis falls somewhere in the middle between being a true look into the world of politics and a satire of it. It’s too silly to be a true glimpse into that scene, and it’s also not quite dark enough to work as effective satire. It’s not sharp enough, its sense of humor is often too juvenile – Sandra Bullock moons a rival bus after a ridiculous and lengthy chase scene, for example – and the stakes don’t ever feel high enough. The ending is also incredibly cheesy, existing just to send audiences home with happy.
Not many people are going to accuse Our Brand is Crisis of being boring. It doesn’t have many scenes that are dull or feel repetitive, and a couple of its reveals later on are solid. Since it’s not about the politics or policies – it’s about the marketing of them – we don’t have to listen to many political speeches or get to know the politicians. There are more than a few laughs sprinkled throughout, there are some nice shots of Bolivia, and the supporting cast members- which consists of the likes of Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd, Anthony Mackie, and Zoe Kazan – get a bunch of fun moments.
As a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock and a film that wants to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the way a political campaign is run, David Gordon Green‘s Our Brand is Crisis is a success. It’s not quite sharp or dark enough to be anything more than a distraction – this isn’t going to open many eyes or shock a great number of viewers – but that’s better than a movie with this premise could have been. It’s not dull, it’s got interesting ideas, and it has pretty solid acting. It’s not something that’s easy to love, and it is too slight to truly work as a biting satire or a true and dark look into the world of politics, but it’s effective enough at doing what it wants that it’s worth seeing.
Bottom Line: Not a dark or shocking look into politics, but some insights, laughs, and good acting make Our Brand is Crisis a decent watch.
Recommendation: You’re likely better off checking out the documentary on which the film is based, but the fiction version is decent, too.[rating=3]