Our Brand is Crisis
Sandra Bullock is the world’s savviest political consultant in David Gordon Green’s underwhelming satire Our Brand is Crisis, a picture so telegraphed and unenlightening that its biggest crime, ultimately, is merely playing it safe, edgy as it thinks it is. There is nothing new here, just a reinforcement of election cycle cynicism and machinations that we all already know exist, and then some.
Bullock is “Calamity” Jane Bowden, maverick campaign spin-doctor whose specialty is getting unelectable candidates into office. Lured out of her hideaway mountain cabin—and self-imposed retirement following a series of unsuccessful gigs—depressed Jane reluctantly treks down to Bolivia with staffers Ann Dowd (excellent) and Anthony Mackie. The job? To boost the dismal campaign of a vacuous, tremendously unpopular former president (Joaquim de Almeida), currently rock bottom in the polls.
Complications ensue when a rival candidate’s consultant, the James Carville-esque Billy Bob Thornton, who also happens to be Jane’s nemesis, throws down the gauntlet, and for Jane the dynamics become as much about winning back her own confidence (she’s lost to him several times) as about winning the election.
Peter Straughan’s screenplay half-heartedly attempts to illuminate the Bolivian citizens’ economic and social concerns through the eyes of an idealistic young staffer (Reynaldo Pacheco) whose illusions are, naturally, about to be shattered, but it never attempts to explore its empty-headed candidate, and that’s a problem.
Also in tow, and wasted, are Zoe Kazan as Jane’s star researcher in charge of excavating negative campaign material, and a grating Scoot McNairy (similarly off-putting in this year’s Black Sea) as the team’s ad man.
Based on a 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton detailing Carville’s successful campaign getting a largely disliked, early 2000s Bolivian candidate elected, the picture was originally written for a man to star but later adapted when Bullock lobbied producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
Nothing really works here—the comedy isn’t very funny, the satire is obvious and the climax’s dramatic reversal predictable—yet Bullock somehow manages to acquit herself in a script that requires pratfalls (well-traveled as she is, Jane clumsily face plants while exiting a plane), vomiting, shrieking to the non-English speaking staff and mooning a rival candidate’s tour bus, proof positive there is nothing the star can do in a movie and not be liked while doing it.