5 out of 10
Our Brand is Crisis Cast:
Sandra Bullock as ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine
Directed by David Gordon Green
Semi-retired campaign advisor “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is called back into action to help politician (and former President) Castillo, who is trailing in the Bolivian Presidential election, gain some ground on the frontrunner. Once there, she learns that her arch-rival Pat Candy is the campaign advisor for Castillo’s competition and the rivalry between the two is renewed.
The opening credits state that Our Brand is Crisis was “suggested by” the doc of the same name by Rachel Boynton but other than being about Americans getting involved with a South American election, there’s very little that seems even remotely familiar to facts. It’s also not anywhere near as good a movie.
This is basically another Sandra Bullock vehicle where she tries to make us forget that she was once better known for mainstream comedies like Miss Congeniality, but Our Brand is Crisis makes that hard since it constantly feels like it needs to “mainstream up” a movie about the serious situation of South American politics with scenes of Bullock throwing up, partying with natives and mooning her competitor in a out-of-place bus race.
But we can get back to that, because the introduction of her character, Jane “Calamity” Bodine, comes about in a fairly routine fashion as a couple of American politicos (Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd) show up at her cabin in the woods to get her help with their Bolivian Presidential candidate, who is trailing in the race. Once she gets down to Bolivia and gets over the high altitude, it still takes some time for Jane to find her “fire” to start pulling things in Castillo’s favor, and some of the ideas, like the ads being made, are some of the first things that have to go.
As much as I’d like to use this review to talk about other things besides Sandra Bullock, it’s hard to do that because she basically steamrolls over the whole thing, the same as usual. Making this more of an ensemble piece might have saved this because Bullock is surrounded by a decent cast, but only Billy Bob Thornton stands out as someone doing anything even remotely noteworthy. Both of their characters are clearly based on Clinton strategist James Carville, who played a large part in Boynton’s doc, and Billy Bob Thornton’s shaved head makes it that more obvious.
Despite not having a particularly inspiring premise, Straughan’s writing isn’t bad, although Thornton’s lecherous Pat Candy probably has the best lines as well as the best scenes with Bullock, which sadly, are few and far between since these are the scenes that really stand out. Even Zoe Kazan, who shows up as a researcher who specializes in digging up dirt on candidates, is only fun for a few minutes before she’s squandered and relegated to being the group’s token interpreter.
Otherwise, any heart brought to the movie comes from the Latino characters and actors, particularly a young volunteer named Eduardo who Jane befriends and spends an evening with in his impoverished neighborhood to see how the people of Bolivia really live. And you know what? If the movie spent nearly as much time focusing on the people of the country—and not just in a alcohol-fueled party montage similar to the one in Bullock’s The Heat—maybe we could be more forgiving of the lighter scenes meant to entertain Bullock’s fans with low-hanging fruit.
Our Brand is Crisis was produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s production company, which is probably the only reason why the movie got made at all, because they seem to be able to charm financers out of money the way that these political campaigners are able to con voters out of their vote. But Clooney’s track record as a filmmaker isn’t close to impeccable and for every Good Night, and Good Luck or Syriana or Argo or Michael Clayton he produces, he’s also been involved with non-starters like Leatherheads and The Ides of March. The latter movie at least involved a fictional American election and handled it much like a thriller with all of the cast doing their part, which isn’t the case here.
As much as it’s great to see David Gordon Green back directing studio films, because he is a capable director, Straughan’s screenplay clearly isn’t up to snuff and he doesn’t do enough to make it better. Either that or there were too many people putting their fingers into the pie to try and make it funnier and failing miserably for their meddling.
Bullock gives Jane enough warmth that she’s likeable despite her questionable and even despicable tactics, but she never earns Jane’s character arc or the resolution she’s given, so you end up walking away from Our Brand is Crisis wondering what we’re supposed to get out of her journey to get there.
As it were, a movie like Pablo Larrain’s Chilean drama No did a lot better exploring South American politics in an entertaining way, and Our Brand is Crisis is constantly overshadowed by better political humor like that found on Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” and In the Loop. Instead, it comes across more like Paul Weitz’s American Dreamz, but at least that had the benefits of spoofing American politics rather than that of a country that doesn’t deserve this sort of treatment.
The Bottom Line:
Our Brand is Crisis offers further proof that the truth is almost always more interesting and entertaining than fiction. This lopsided comedy iteration of a solid doc makes one wonder why anyone would finance this movie other than the fact that Clooney and Bullock were involved. Hopefully Hollywood will learn a lesson from the movie that the American government still hasn’t: stay out of South American politics.