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Our Brand Is Crisis (Review)

"[T]he end result is a film that feels like a lemon meringue pie without the lemon"

by Steve Pulaski

David Gordon Green's Our Brand Is Crisis is a low-energy, low-stakes political satire about a high-stakes election that had Bolivia teetering on the edge of civil unrest. During this time, former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada hired a political consulting firm by the name of Greenberg Sarville Shrum in order to try and secure a win and rebound from a huge point deficit. The result was a woman named Jane Bodine being promoted to campaign manager for Lozada and scoring an incalculable victory for him over his opponent, who seemed like a sure lock to win.

This story was already covered, from what I understand, fairly effectively in a 2005 documentary of the same name. However, when the notorious producing team of George Clooney and Grant Heslov decided to throw money at a fictionalized adaptation of the election for Hollywood, another Our Brand Is Crisis materialized. What we get with this film is a lot of lame political satire and some pretty obvious dramatic notes all performed by actors who I sincerely hope were paid more than the writers for their commitment to the material and their continued affirmation as to why we hold them in such high regard.

Our Brand Is Crisis
Directed by David Gordon Green
Cast Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie
Release Date 30 October 2015
Steve's Grade: D+

Jane is portrayed by Sandra Bullock, one of the most commendable actresses of the last few years who can take a wide variety of roles and give them the kind of spin in the right direction in order to make them big winners. Lozada's character is named Pedro Castillo and is played by Joaquim de Almeida, though his character finds himself at the mercy of Jane and her right-hand-man Ben (Anthony Mackie) to the point where he's less an actor on screen and more just a presence. Then there's Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), Jane's longtime rival in the game of political campaigning, who is helping manage the frontrunner's campaign while watching Jane, Ben, and Castillo work on rebranding for their own campaign.

The way in which Jane goes about rebranding Castillo's campaign is intriguing enough. The title derives from the thesis she decides on for Castillo's campaign. Castillo, a more conservative man who has a hard time relating and resonating to the public because of his traditionalist mindset, is seen as out of touch, to which Jane responds to by capitalizing off of Bolivia's political uncertainty at this time. She, through ad campaigns and talk show interviews, works to shape him as a tough, rugged soul, traits that were formerly seen as flaws, that would protect Bolivia and defend the country at all costs. Castillo's campaign treats what's brewing as the imminent events that will make or break the country depending on who is in office. Their brand is, indeed, crisis and crisis preparation.

Our Brand Is Crisis takes an approach to its material that's far more rooted in comedy than I expected. While political satires are a pleasant rarity, you get the vibes that due to the film's reliance on situational humor instead of any kind of thematic relevance that the people who are working on this film aren't totally sure how to approach the material in a way that's comedic, yet impacting. David Gordon Green, one of my favorite directors working today, is, once more, operating far out of his element, likely in hopes for a paycheck so he can continue making great films like this year's unseen Manglehorn, and screenwriter Peter Straughan, who wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, seems more used to functioning on a more serious playing field than what is presented here.

The result is a film that's very slight, more worried about warming one's heart and making them feel good instead of delivering a message home or creating a more opportune playing field. Bullock, Thornton, and de Almeida all work well to be engaging presences, but this is a film that tries to do so much too obviously that it doesn't manage to resonate at all. The first act of the film tries to play Bullock's Jane as a has-been, showing her over-dramatically victim to Bolivia's higher elevation by acting lethargic and vomiting every few moments and portraying her like a woman who has fallen into a depression after a relationship. After sometime, however, the internal switch flicks and she becomes the fiery, uncompromising soul everyone has apparently known her for and that is recipe for a lot of uneven comedy and drama, the former never consistently funny enough to entertain and the latter neither interesting nor meaningful to buy.

It almost seems like there's a good film here being smothered by a bad one that just did a belly-flop on top of its significantly better counterpart. Our Brand Is Crisis isn't an especially bad film, as its actors work with the material in a way that affirms why so many love their work, but the end result is a film that feels like a lemon meringue pie without the lemon; it's missing a key ingredient and that is the zest and the bite that makes these films timely and long-withstanding and this particular film will do neither except for momentarily entertain.

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