Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

Film: Our Brand is Crisis (2015)
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dow, Joaquin de Almeida, Zoe Kazan
Director: David Gordon Green
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Remember this movie from last year?  One of those extremely rare pictures, really the first one since her Oscar win, where Sandra Bullock actually bombed at the Box Office, and yet Bullock (one of my favorite film presences) combined with a movie about politics was too much for me to pass up despite reviews and public reaction that made me raise an eyebrow or two.  The reality is that the public rarely wants to see films about politics (after this cycle, can you blame them?), but I rarely get bored with electoral results and wanted to see if this was a case where I would like the film better than the general populace at large.  Unfortunately, this was a situation where group-think and consensus were the correct decisions, as Our Brand is Crisis is a blustery, poorly-pieced-together look at an unfortunate chapter of American overreach.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is actually based on the 2002 Bolivian elections, when Stan Greenberg and James Carville, longtime Democratic political operatives most noted for their work on the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign, went to the aid of a conservative former president of the country.  Bullock, in a nice case of gender-blind casting, essentially stood in for Greenberg/Carville as a political operative named Jane Bodine, a woman who was once the toast of the beltway who suddenly saw her world turned upside down with tabloid scandals, alcoholism, and a string of electoral defeats.  The film follows her as she and a political consulting firm try to recast a disgraced former president (de Almeida) as someone who is the answer to Bolivia's problems, despite him seemingly not caring about the poorer people of the country.  In the process, she has to take on her former arch-rival Pat Candy (Thornton), whom she has never beaten in a race and with whom she played very dirty politics that led to her downfall.

It's a great setup for a film, and despite the white savior angle (which is unfortunate, let's just get that out of the way, though it does mirror real life so it might be relatively unavoidable), it has its moments.  Watching some of the ridiculousness in the campaign occasionally finds us in Veep territory, such as when a giant mascot parades next to the ill-tempered former Bolivian president, or when a goat is somehow randomly killed mid-commercial.  Bullock is an extremely watchable star, and her work here, while nowhere near as powerful as her career-best turn in Gravity, is fun and spry.  She gets inside this character, and when she's out bossing around her team or showing her passion for the job, it's intoxicating to watch.  Sideline players like Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie are always welcome, and here they occasionally get their great moments (can Ann Dowd just be in everything?).

The problem is the film is too broad and basic.  It's obvious that we'll eventually see Jane Bodine, who is in fact good at her job and likely successful in this career precisely because she doesn't get bogged down with caring about a campaign's message, decide that helping the poor people of Bolivia is the right decision for her moral compass, but that's so predictable and probably not that true to real life, let's be honest (Carville and Greenberg are still political operatives trying to swing for a win more than anything else).  The film doesn't have the intellectual heft to examine that Bodine likely needs to be detached in order to win the election; you can't eat the hamburger if you have to constantly look at how it's made.  The film's paint-by-numbers storytelling is weirdly complimented by the bizarre work being done by Thornton, who seems to be both Jane's ex-lover and longtime foil.  His bizarre, grossly-sexual encounters with her are strange, and masked only by Scoot McNairy's weird learning disability situation (for some reason, despite English being his first language, he has trouble with relatively basic words but it's never really acknowledged in the script or played for anything other than laughs, which made me uncomfortable).

As a result, the film is more of a missed opportunity.  I'll probably still see Rachel Boynton's documentary of the same name (Carville is always entertaining), but I left wanting more of the political nitty-gritty and learning about Bodine's clearly capable style than the moral center that plagued the film.  We are too far removed from the days of The Candidate for political films to be shocking in terms of what goes on behind the scenes of politics, but Our Brand feels the need to rehash that same story.

Those were my thoughts on the picture-how about yours?  Anyone want to rush to its defense?  Anyone who has seen the original documentary want to chime in?  And where does Bullock go next in terms of her live-action film career?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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