Our Brand Is Crisis
2015, R, 108 min. Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Dominic Flores, Reynaldo Pacheco, Louis Arcella, Octavio Gomez Berrios.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 2015
”Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” That’s a maxim from artful warrior Sun Tzu, whose bellicose playbook is referenced many times over in the course of Austin-based director David Gordon Green’s semi-comedic, overtly cynical drama about soulless American political strategists spinning a Bolivian presidential election into a personal grudge match. Sandra Bullock is “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a retired campaign manager who, in the wake of a series of disastrous personal adversities (alcoholism, depression, etc.) has removed herself from the duplicitous realm of politics to putter around her tidy little home in the Colorado Rockies. She’s enticed back to the fray, however, when she learns her spin-doctor nemesis, Pat Candy (Thornton), has also taken a gig in Bolivia, helping to elect the opposing candidate. The candidate she’s off to manage, the hulking egomaniac Castillo (de Almeida), is 28 points down in the polls and looking like the darkest of dark horses. He’s an IMF-courting plunderer in the making.
Playing a role that was originally intended for George Clooney, Bullock nails the maniacally creative, win-at-all-costs nefariousness of the political hired gun and the toll it takes on the individual. You have to be a very Machiavellian sort to excel at this upper echelon of BS, and Bullock’s Jane is just that, albeit with comic asides. Thornton is almost her equal as rival strategist Candy (riffing on James Carville, much as he did in Primary Colors), but ultimately this is a movie about the toll the return to such a lifestyle takes on “Calamity” Jane, and she’s the best thing about this film. (Green’s movie is loosely based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same title, although his characters and details are largely fictionalized.)
Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan never completely go as far as they might have, satirically speaking. Political comedy has always been a difficult task to pull off, and this is no Wag the Dog. It’s funny in an uncomfortable sort of way whenever Bullock’s onscreen (which is most of the time), but in the end the film feels like it’s pulling its punches far too frequently. The murky underworld of political spin masters is ripe for filmic subversion, perhaps now more than ever. After watching Our Brand Is Crisis I realized how much more scathing – vicious, even – it could and should have been. It ends on an optimistic note and it leaves you lamenting what it might have been if, say, the late Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) had a hand in the script. Politics is a dirty business and Our Brand Is Crisis keeps its hands far too clean.
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Our Brand Is Crisis, David Gordon Green, Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Dominic Flores, Reynaldo Pacheco, Louis Arcella, Octavio Gomez Berrios