- on Friday, 30 October 2015 16:06
- by Frank Wilkins
As if he were preaching to the choir with his latest film, director David Gordon Green tells us in Our Brand is Crisis that politics is a dirty business. And with a timely subject matter so ripe for sleazy material, the opportunities with which to entertain us are seemingly endless. How then, does Green fall so short? His biggest problem is that he never quite figures out what he wants Our Brand is Crisis to be.
At times the biting satire that reveals the cynical inner-workings of the political consultant business is sharply funny and directly on point with Bullock adding her own well-worn brand of frazzled physical comedy as the slightly disheveled, but brilliant girl who falls down, throws up, and moons the camera frequently. Maybe it works better as a straight-up Sandy Bullock comedy? This is the director of Pineapple Express after all.
Then at other times Green gets serious in a political drama that has loads of heavy musings on the nasty nature of politics and the soul-selling strive to win at all costs. His ever-present message that revolves around the theme of the corrupting nature of power and how it rots the identity of those ill-equipped to handle it is some heavy stuff. Perhaps the film might be more impactful without Bullock’s comedic element?
Both are worthy ways of telling a story for sure, and,when done right, humor and gravitas can creatively coexist and even feed off one another to fuel a powerful story with laughter, anger, disgust, and redemption at its core. But the key to bringing both sides together is getting the tone just right. Green never does.
Whatever it is, Our Brand is Crisis isn’t the slick political satire that writer Peter Straughan and producer George Clooney were going for. There’s enough good stuff in there to keep us entertained with the occasional beat of broad humor, and the acting is actually quite strong with Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton displaying remarkable chemistry, even though we don’t like either character and care even less about the political results they’ve been hired to produce in a foreign locale. Our Brand is Crisis never quite distinguishes itself and instead meanders all over the road with a flaky attitude that never quite hammers home the absurdity of politics, and is never funny enough to make up for its other shortcomings.
Bullock plays “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a deeply wounded political campaign consultant who retired years ago following a scandal that rocked her to her core. Though approached to run the campaign of Bolivian presidential candidate Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), she’s not interested in returning to the game until she learns that her professional nemesis and personal rival, the loathsome Pat Candy (Thornton) has been hired by the opposition. With teams assembled and key strategies developed, the race for the next Bolivian president is on.
With the personal gossip between the two being flung about as readily as the nasty campaign rhetoric, we quickly learn that there are no rules, no ideals, and certainly no holding back as both the political machine and personal insults grind into motion.
Our Brand is Crisis gets most of its drive from the interactions between Jane and Candy, and the moments they are on the screen together are some of the film’s best even though we don’t feel particularly vested in either and certainly don’t have a dog in the hunt for the remote country’s election. And that’s where some serious problems lie. Even with our own country’s election season afoot, we have no interest in Bolivia’s outcome, and even less understanding of the country's urgency (apparently there has been corruption in the past that led to unrest and violence). All that’s left are Bullock and Thornton. And though strong enough to carry most films, the consequences of each’s success or failure in this plot isn’t strong enough to keep us watching.
The film is based on a documentary of the same name that sprang from the real-life Bolivian presidential election when James Carville took his fiery brand of campaign management to South America in 2002. And while undoubtedly a fascinating story for those who study such things, there’s simply not enough power in Green’s version to overcome the dull subject matter. In addition, his chaotic storytelling and uneven tone get in the way of an outcome that should really enrage an audience.
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references.
Runtime: 107 mins
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: Peter Straughan
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie
Genre: Drama | Comedy
Tagline: May the best campaign win.
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's like he killed himself rather than appear in our commercial."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: http://www.warnerbros.com/our-brand-crisis?bd=&bg=&bt=&bp=1
Release Date: October 30, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: February 2, 2016.
Synopsis: A Bolivian presidential candidate failing badly in the polls enlists the firepower of an elite American management team, led by the deeply damaged but still brilliant strategist "Calamity" Jane Bodine (Bullock). In self-imposed retirement following a scandal that earned her nickname and rocked her to her core, Jane is coaxed back into the game for the chance to beat her professional nemesis, the loathsome Pat Candy (Thornton), now coaching the opposition.
But as Candy zeroes in on every vulnerability both on and off the campaign trail Jane is plunged into a personal crisis as intense as the one her team exploits nationally to boost their numbers. Dramatic, rapid-fire and laced with satire, "Our Brand is Crisis" reveals the cynical machinations and private battles of world-class political consultants for whom nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters.
Available on Blu-ray - February 2, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: A
Released on blu-ray by Warner Bros, the 1080p transfer is deliciously crisp and detailed. That’s due in large part to it being shot with the Panavision Millennium XL2 35mm camera rather than any last minute processing or artifacing. Colors are warm and black levels are consistently strong. The location shoot – sometimes Bolivia, often Puerto Rico – is expressive and very sunny, causing a lot of the film to absolutely pop with dynamic range as a very green and lush atmosphere surrounds the viewer. The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 helps keep things proper for home viewing. The sound is presented here in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It is effective for this dialogue-heavy movie.
Warner Bros shortchanges buyers with this release. With only one brief featurette and a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie, Our Brand is Crisis makes for a relatively weak release. The only featurette is your typical making-of look that features interviews from the cast and the crew to deliver the message.
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