Based on the 2005 documentary of the same name by Rachel Boynton, Our Brand is Crisis follows Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a political strategist who’s called to Bolivia by well-intentioned Ben (Anthony Mackie) and former colleague Nell (Ann Dowd). They want her to take over as strategist for presidential candidate Pedro Castillo’s (Joaquim de Almeida) campaign in order for him to win the elections; There’s just one person in her way–long-time rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
Sandra Bullock is again at the epicenter of events. Our Brand is Crisis is as much about political and behind-the-scenes drama as it is a vehicle to allow Bullock to shine. But however tough-as-nails Bullock portrays “Calamity Jane,” the film is oversimplified and takes away from the primary focus, which is the U.S. involvement in foreign presidential campaigns. It is an issue that is worth questioning and exploring, but the film is too busy dealing with Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton’s onscreen feud that any other major plot lines get lost in the din.
There are blanket statements about political systems, public personas, deceiving the public so that they feel certain emotions toward a candidate by making the “narrative fit the man” instead of the other way around. The film nudges the corners of a box full of serious commentary and intriguing perspectives, but never allows it to open. It’s clearly from the American perspective, as the Bolivians are put on the back burner.
With that in mind, Almeida really shines as a presidential candidate who’s on the angry side of the nation’s indigenous, and largest, population. But he also holds the sway of some, like young, hopeful and hero-worshiping campaign volunteer, Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco). The conversations and discussions between them are some of the strongest and most sincere in the film. Almeida’s character is neither good or bad, but questionable; you never clearly know where the shoe will drop with him. Anthony Mackie’s character is practically irrelevant, only there to offer some ideal advice to Bullock or to lend an ear. Ann Dowd is there to provide the exposition about Bullock’s character, while Scoot McNairy is there for odd comedic relief and Zoe Kazan is the super-smart researcher/translator.
Our Brand is Crisis is ultimately an average politically-charged film, one that had far more potential than what is seen onscreen. Good performances all around don’t overcome some of the film’s issues, but still make for an interesting watch. Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) sets out to make a serious film about U.S. political involvement in foreign elections, but it turns into the Hollywood version of it, too simple to be taken seriously. A decent enough film but not as impressive or intelligent as is could have been.
Release Date: October 30, 2015 | Director: David Gordon Green | Screenwriter: Peter Straughan | Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida, Zoe Kazan, Scoot McNairy, Reynaldo Pacheco, Octavio Gomez Berrios, Louis Arcella, Luis Chavez