Review: Our Brand is Crisis
Considering the political climate of North America at the moment, on the heels of a Canadian election and awash in an American Presidential race, Our Brand is Crisis won’t fool anyone. It’s an also ran, a film that doesn’t have the power of its convictions, featuring moments of levity and intrigue while too often pandering to a hopeful audience.
It’s unfortunate too; it’s by no mean a disingenuous film, and works hard to win you over, but Our Brand is Crisis can’t find a foothold in reality. And this is despite the fact the film is based on a 2002 documentary of the same name that followed a political campaign. In that doc, American operatives ran a Bolivian presidential campaign, just like here. Sandra Bullock stars as Jane, sometimes prefaced with ‘Calamity’, a burnt-out political strategist enlisted to revive the struggling candidacy of Pedro Castillo, a former Bolivian president seeking a return to the seat of power.
A good showing may also save the career of Jane, who is facing off against an old nemesis in strategist Pat Candy (a devilish Billy Bob Thornton), running the opposition campaign while bringing up traumas of the past. They’re the most interesting characters – far more so than their respective candidates, whose policies are neither important to their campaign managers or the filmmakers – but juggling ideas and tones proves a struggle for direction David Gordon Green and company.
We have American operatives coming to South America to craft a campaign; we have the absence of concern for specific beliefs; we have personal demons sprouting up for Jane; a dewy-eyed Bolivian teen is swept up in hope and trust; and this is a comedy.
Our Brand is Crisis is indeed plenty funny, but in fits and spurts, in disconnected scenes that are out of place on whole. More than anything, it seems uncomfortable with its inherent cynicism, which in fact is the only thing holding the entirety of the film together.
Without saying it, the characters are more focused on wining than being right; Candy seems more at home with this cruel reality than Jane, even though she should be. In an act of uncertainly that is the utmost frustrating for the viewer, the filmmakers shoehorn in a small twist towards the end that nearly sabotages everything that happens before in the name of optimism.
While funny and occasionally absurd as Jane is surrounded by fast-talking and foul-mouthed associates, including an almost screwball Scoot McNairy, the dutiful Anthony Mackie, and an under-utilized Zoe Kazan, Our Brand is Crisis can’t properly wrangle moral complexities or dramatic tension. It’s a nice enough candidate, but out of place among political heavyweights, a serviceable distraction without gravitas, ultimately forgettable.