Our Brand Is Crisis (opening today) is a political satire, a fictionalized version of the events chronicled in the 2005 documentary-film of the same name. Politics – specifically politicians – are corrupt, and there are forces at work behind-the-scenes that drive popular opinion, sway votes, and influence governments. None of this is really new information, but it is served up to us such anyways in this well-intentioned, but poorly executed political misfire.
Sandra Bullock is Jane, a cutthroat political campaign manager who is hired by politicians to swing the polls and bring home electoral victories. She has had a great deal of success in the past, but also well-publicized catastrophes, now “out of the game” after having succumbed to her demons and having battled alcoholism. With a big presidential election coming up in the South American country of Bolivia, an American team of political analysts led by Nell (Ann Dowd, of HBO’s The Leftovers), Ben (Anthony Mackie) and comic-relief Buckley (Scoot McNairy), try to pull Jane out of retirement to help them with the campaign of former President Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who is currently trailing several other candidates in the polls. They might as well had Jane utter the famous line “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Of course she agrees to the gig. She then discovers that she is up against former rival and nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), an opposing campaign adviser who has bested Jane on several elections in the past.
The script by Peter Straughan is all over the place and full of schlock. Bullock over-acts as the moody political genius, but the problem is, much of what she offers up as ideas for her candidate’s campaign are all that intuitive (“be yourself!” is not a ground-breaking political strategy). They give Jane a cold and nausea from the plane flight to Bolivia, so much of her acting work is to just play sick and uninterested. It works against getting the audience interested. The political team that is assembled is also banal, only existing to oppose Jane at every turn by doubting her every move (wait, didn’t they hire her to be there?).
Our Brand Is Crisis hammers home the idea that a successful campaign is not related to being a worthy candidate. It is hardly ever about the issues, or what the candidate is or what they will do once in office. It’s all about winning. Until the win comes of course, and then our trained political assassin suddenly is washed over with a flood of morality.
The bad news is that this is how politics work: There are forces unseen that push people in certain directions, or as one person says in the film, “If voting actually mattered, it would be made illegal.” But the handling of the material here just doesn’t work effectively. This is a shallow, messy satire that is neither funny or thought-provoking.
Spoiler Alert! The film ends with Jane jumping out of a car, and getting lost in a crowded sea of people…disappearing much like this film will as we head into award season.
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Reynaldo Pacheco
Screenplay by Peter Straughan (Frank, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Debt)
Directed by David Gordon Green (Joe, Prince Avalanche, The Sitter, Your Highness, Pineapple Express)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 30, 2015 (check for show times).