With the presidential election a little more than a year away, Our Brand is Crisis is a film that might have resonated more in 2016 – in the actual cynical season. The Sandra Bullock vehicle, which opens Friday (Oct. 30) on screens locally and nationwide, never quite gets a “yay” vote.
There’s something remarkably pedestrian about a movie whose mantra boils down to all politics being local and personal. It never finds a rhythm or sense of zip for its pervasive cynicism instead relying wholly on the skills of Bullock and co-star Billy Bob Thornton to carry the film.
That’s not necessarily a bad play, but it certainly would have helped if the actual story contributed something memorable to the proceedings. This story of a disheveled, down-and-out political strategist called upon for yet one more campaign rodeo proves lacking. Is that because it’s set in a country – Bolivia – that most audiences likely wouldn’t give a rip about? Possibly.
However, the suspicion here is that it’s mostly not that interesting primarily because we’re never given a reason to invest emotionally. The moment Jane (Bullock) decides to sign onto the presidential campaign of Castillo, she takes any attachment we may have for her.
She’s not signing on for ideological reasons, but for personal ones. That’s how a fellow campaign vet gets her to sign on. She flashes the face of Pat (Thornton), her arch nemesis going back to her original entry into the campaign trail.
After learning he’s running a rival campaign, it’s all about beating him. Not the candidate. Not the issues. Not the Bolivian people. It’s about beating Pat.
And that’s where Crisis brokers in the very thing that it wants you to believe that it’s trashing – cynicism. In that regard it leaves plenty to be desired and it plays right into its contrived, manipulative ending that lacks any semblance of emotional heft.
In addition to that little problem, others exist. Director David Gordon Green never finds the absolute correct tone or sense of timing for the film that was written by Peter Straughan. It feels as if he’s aiming for something akin to Primary Colors the thoroughly enjoyable thinly veiled Mike Nichols exploration of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. That, however, represents a height to lofty to achieve.
The saving grace here – performances. Bullock and Thornton possess and show an undeniable chemistry, both adversarial with an undercurrent of sexual tension. The script could have used more of their playful banter.
But Our Brand is Crisis could have used more of several things. It’s a film that accomplishes the near impossible – making politics uninteresting.
Movie: Our Brand is Crisis
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: R for language, including some sexual references
Running time: 107 minutes
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com