“How far are you behind?”
I hated this movie. I hated the story, hated the directing, hated the acting. Our Brand Is Crisis doesn’t know that though. It’s a film that thinks it’s fun and dramatic and silly all at once, when in fact it is anything and everything else. So as I watched this mess unfold on the screen, I couldn’t help but groan from exhaustion and cradle my head in frustration, because this disaster should have been good. It should have had a satirical story about the savage nature of politics. It should have been more competently directed by its veteran filmmaker. And it should have felt likable, with America’s leading lady front and center. Our Brand Is Crisis should have been so much better, but could have only marginally been any worse.
Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), nicknamed “Calamity Jane” in the political sector, is a campaign adviser taking a break from the stresses of her job and her past defeats. She lives in between snow-capped mountains and spends her days alone making pottery. Then she’s asked to go to come out of retirement, flies off to Bolivia with no motive, and joins a team to get Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) elected President. Jane is an altogether obnoxious and unpleasant protagonist. Not that she has to be a saint to be enjoyed though. Some of our most memorable characters are the most jaded and flawed while still having inner conflict paired with a fully realized person. The reason Jane teeters back and forth from cringeworthy to absurd is because she is a character who limps along on idle crutches. She spouts quotes, eats chips, likes voodoo, craves cigs, and always carries a bottle of steak sauce. All fine attributes. However, they mean very little to the overall story, and just as much to Jane or the audience. Spending 2 hours with her is equal to a sentencing without the thrill of the crime.
What’s really missing from this shapeless satirical dramedy is a message. A film can be light and fun if it establishes those qualities from the onset, or it can go the total tonal opposite and be heavy hitting. Either way, it’s imperative in cinema that a movie defines itself. That it has its own dictionary and set of rules. Our Brand Is Crisis chooses to be about nothing, and as a result the film elicits nothing – aside from some mild frustration or malice. All of those mixed emotions end up being aimed at Bullock, who is the only good thing about this movie; an adept performer in an inept story. Her rapport with the cast is solid, although most of them are kindergarten sketches, not least of whom is Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), Jane’s adversary and nemesis perfectly cast yet poorly played by Thornton with a stonewalled smug approach. Most of these people feel that way, that detached, and you’re left knocking on a door where nobody is home. The best performance is given by an escaped llama run over by a car, wisely killing itself off rather than be associated with this muck anymore. After a while you’ll get fed up and throw your hands in the air a la the poster, forfeiting hope and walking away with what little energy you still have left.
One of the worst trends in contemporary filmmaking is a clear inability to shut the f*** up and just get on with telling a story. Bullock may give a rousing monologue here and there, but it’s layered with a score better suited for music when you’re put on hold. And the directing by David Gordon Green, who has a rich niche in intimate southern gothic character studies, is easily his most detached work to date. Green directs great films as well as treacherous ones, making it nearly impossible to place any faith in the vision he brings to the screen. Here his camera rarely stops moving even though a stationary shot would frame the picture better. The characters are lousy, the dialogue is bland, and Green’s lack of identity mars everything along the way. Most of the time the loudest and most talkative people in the room actually have the least to say. As does Our Brand Is Crisis, a trainwreck you’re better off averting.
“If you’ve got some kind of trick up your sleeve, I think it’s time to pull it out.”
Rating: 0.5 out of 5