FILM REVIEW – OUR BRAND IS CRISIS. With Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd. Written by Peter Straughan. Directed by David Gordon Green. Rated R for language including some sexual references. 107 minutes.
Inspired by a documentary of the same name, OUR BRAND IS CRISIS is, for the most part, a darkly funny satire about political consultants run amok. Jane (Sandra Bullock) is a political consultant who has burnt out, and now spends her time working on pottery. At the start of the film she’s lured back into the game, bringing her talents to bear on a campaign for the presidency of Bolivia.
Already there’s the sad truth that we are actually exporting the tactics developed in our own dysfunctional campaigns. The candidate is Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) who’s nearly thirty points behind in the polls. Jane’s longtime rival among political operatives, Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), is working for the leading candidate. Much of the film has to do with the two trying to get the best of each other, as Jane convinces Castillo that their theme should not be “hope” but “crisis.”
Bullock is a lot of fun as the frantic consultant, nicknamed “Calamity Jane.” Her glee when she one ups Candy is simultaneously malicious and infectious. Thornton’s character is even more cynical, spreading rumors and engaging in dirty tricks without a second thought. As the story barrels along, we see our own absurd campaigns through the filter of another country’s election, and we cringe. And then it all goes wrong.
Without giving too much away, the payoff of the story takes us into another movie entirely. Suddenly we go from satire to political melodrama, where Bullock’s character has a sudden revelation. The movie practically confers sainthood upon her. The change of tone is not only off-putting. It ends up undercutting the rest of the film.
It’s not often when you see exactly where a film goes off the rails, but in this case something that was working well suddenly becomes so phony that you leave the theater wondering what happened. Is it that Bullock, who was an executive producer on the film, didn’t want her character to end up being a bad guy? Is it that the filmmakers felt that they really had to make a point about what a mess the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund have made with interference into other countries? Whatever it is, it was the wrong choice to make.
“Our Brand is Crisis” is a film you may catch on TV someday. When you do, wait until the moment the election is decided and then turn it off. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.