Review: Our Brand is Crisis
REVIEW: OUR BRAND IS CRISIS lacks the teeth be a truly effective satire. Perhaps in an effort to appeal to mainstream commercial sensibilities, what could have been a cynical, funny and relevant political comedy in line with WAG THE DOG or NETWORK is softened into a movie-star vehicle that's only slightly smarter than typical studio fare. To anyone who's seen the documentary this is based-on (and with which it shares a name) that fact should be deeply disappointing.
If the story-line hadn't been softened somewhat it's unlikely OUR BRAND IS CRISIS would have ever been turned into a studio film, but maybe that would have been for the best. Considering that it's co-produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, one would have expected a tougher movie but the premise feels totally watered-down in order to provide star Sandra Bullock with a star-vehicle.
Coming-off GRAVITY, Bullock's career is at an all-time-high, and I have no doubt that had this been a more complex indie-flick, Bullock would have delivered. Unfortunately here, her character is unconvincingly contradictory. When the film starts, Jane portrayed as a little too adorably clumsy in the typical Bullock mode, but that's better than the way we're coerced into siding with Jane throughout her political machinations. Even though the politician she's working for (the excellent Joaquim de Almeida) is clearly in bed with the International Monetary Fund and a potential disaster for his country, we're allowed to like Jane because her arch-nemesis – played by Billy Bob Thornton – is presented as such a heel. Clearly based on James Carville (right down to the shaved head) Thornton, who gives it his all, is presented as a two-dimensional scumbag and by turning this into a good guys-bad guys narrative, director David Gordon Green's film simplifies things too much. The filmmakers should have had faith in their audience, who can decide who's sympathetic and who's not on their own.
Where OUR BRAND IS CRISIS fares best is actually when Bullock and Thornton are off-screen, with Almeida's conflicted but corrupt politician having a few really interesting moments with an optimistic teen volunteering on his campaign. Almeida never plays his character as a straight-up bad guy, which is refreshing even if it's people like the guy he plays that are arguably ruining the world (it's worth noting everyone involved – from the candidates to the spin doctors – are fictionalized).
The rest of the supporting cast doesn't fare quite as well, with Anthony Mackie having very little to do except look on in exasperation when Bullock acts crazy, or Ann Dowd, who's around mostly for exposition. Scoot McNairy is saddled with a particularly off-key part, playing a barely literate videographer working for the campaign, whose antics feel like a clumsy attempt at ringing more laughs out of the audience. Zoe Kazan is in there too but her part is so minor I'm scratching my head trying to remember if she actually had any dialogue.
It's really too bad that OUR BRAND IS CRISIS didn't turn out better as the ingredients are there. Had their roles been better, Bullock and Thornton could have been excellent. Green, although working in studio-mode, was able to bring on his regular DP Tim Orr and composer David Wingo, and their contributions are top-notch. It all comes down to the studio wanting to make a commercial movie out of a totally non-commercial subject. This could have been another WAG THE DOG but instead it's just another DEAL OF THE CENTURY.
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