'Our Brand Is Crisis'
As always, just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the hell you think director David Gordon Green is going in his career, he throws in another monkey wrench. After spending time in mainstream comedy following the stoner hit ‘Pineapple Express’, the director seemed to be getting back to his wistful art house roots in movies like ‘Joe’ and ‘Manglehorn’. Now, he’s going for something else entirely in the political satire ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’. Though flawed, it’s another interesting experiment that you wouldn’t guess was from Green until his name pops up in the credits.
Sandra Bullock stars as a weary political strategist nicknamed Calamity Jane for all the trouble she tends to bring to the campaign trail. After taking a few years off to live in the woods and feel sorry for herself, Jane is pulled back into the game to help manipulate an election in Bolivia. She’s been hired by the ex-president (Joaquim de Almeida), who’s struggling for re-election since he’s despised by his people. Of course, Jane doesn’t really know much about him nor does she care that much. She takes the job for one reason and one reason only: to beat her spin doctor nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
There are some salient points to be made about manipulative U.S. political practices in the Third World, but ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ never spends much time concerned with the specifics (which is odd since it’s based on a documentary). Perhaps that’s the point, in a weird way. This election is fought and won by American spin doctors for hire who don’t care about who they’re working for or the welfare of the people. They just want to play the manipulation game and win.
That questionable morality hangs over all of the film, but the foreground is mostly taken up by some pretty great comedy. Bullock and Thornton are of course very comfortable with shifting gears from goofy comedy to hardened drama and do so with ease while whipping up some satirically absurd campaign strategies.
Director Green nimbly dances between tones, nurses the best work out of his actors, and (along with his regular cinematographer Tim Orr) finds a beautifully burned-out look for the South American setting. When the movie serves up satirical jabs and bad behavior comedy, it’s a riotous blast that shifts tones on the fly. Unfortunately, Bullock’s character (and in turn the film) go through a change of heart as the tale wraps up and Green tries to transform it into sincere drama about the pain of the Bolivian people. Since viewers were never given much background about the whos and whys of that country’s problems, the finale feels a bit disingenuous given all of the silliness that came before.
Still, while ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ might stumble across the finish line, it has far too much satirical fun and far too many strong performances along the way for the movie to be considered a failure.