Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

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I thought I was done with 2015 movies, but I was on a short flight today and Our Brand Is Crisis turned out the be the only movie I hadn’t yet seen, so I thought, “Why not?”

I had very little interest in this movie when I saw the poster and trailer for it. Basically, Sandra Bullock plays a crazy political fixer who will do whatever it takes to help her candidate win. She’s apparently “the best”, but for some reason she has stepped away from the game for years and lives out in the middle of nowhere.

So when two American campaigners played by the fantastic Ann Dowd (from Compliance) and Falcon (ie, Anthony Mackie) are hired by a Bolivian candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) for a struggling presidential campaign, they decide to entice Bullock out of retirement so she can go up against her arch nemesis, a skeletal, sleazy SOB by the name of Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Joining the team are the marketing guru (played by the guy who recently lost his legs to Superman, ie, Scoot McNairy) and a miraculously good investigator who can also speak Spanish (Zoe Kazan).

And so begins a battle of wits between the two fixers, who continue to raise the stakes and become more relentless in their pursuit of victory at any cost. It’s a film set on the campaign trail, tackling one sneaky tactic at a time, and with periodic updates of poll numbers to let us know how far away we are from the climax.

So I’ll just come out and say it: Our Brand Is Crisis is a weird film. First of all, it’s a fictionalized account of a true story and actually shares the same name as a 2005 documentary. In other words, pretty much everything is fiction except for the broad premise of an American campaign team working on a Bolivian election. So it’s kind of real but not real, and the film is kind of a drama, kind of a comedy and kind of satire, but it’s not really any of those either. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film begins with a serious vibe, making me think that we were going down the route of something like say The Ides of March or Primary Colors. But then it goes all goofy and jokey, with fairly standard gags and slapstick humour. There’s even the impassioned (campy) speech by Bullock’s character that made me feel like I was watching Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. And then at the end, political commentary competently takes over and tries to convince you that it’s deeper and more meaningful than it really is.

Secondly, as the film is set in Bolivia, you have the politicians and locals speaking Spanish, while the American campaigners speak English. I’m sure that’s what actually happened in real life as well, but it just seems like a lot of work for everyone involved, including the audience.

Thirdly, Billy Bob’s Candy is a weird antagonist. He starts off as a caricature, and you only get more and more surface with him, but never any depth. He’s kind of just there to irk and egg on Bullock, because by the end of it all you still don’t really know what to think about the guy.

Having said that, the film is passable from a entertainment perspective. Bullock does her usual thing and it works to a degree, though her character isn’t likable enough for you to want to genuinely root for her. Her team is actually where the fun is at, but unfortunately there’s not enough screen time to go around for everybody. They all get a nice little intro but then get shoved to the side and basically forgotten. Scoot McNairy was a lot of fun but doesn’t get much to do, which also goes for Dowd and Kazan. Mackie, in particular, is under-utilised and you never get a proper picture of who he is.

Instead, much of the story is spent on a wide-eyed Bolivian youngster who is a fervent supporter and works as a campaign assistant simply because of a brush with the candidate as a child. We’ve seen the “enthusiastic young man gets disillusioned with politics” angle countless times in movies like this, and while this one wasn’t badly done, it just felt like time could have been better served on what makes the movie different, rather than the same.

In all, Our Brand Is Crisis is a shade-above-average politics film that never ends up as intriguing, funny or profound as it wants to be. It’s watchable for a flight film, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Judge (2014)

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I hadn’t seen any engaging dramas for a while, so I thought I’d go and check out The Judge, a film about a hotshot lawyer (Robert Downey Jr) who returns home and defends his estranged father (Robert Duvall), an elderly and well respected judge, against a serious crime.

I can understand why the film has received mixed reviews, but personally I thought it was a well-acted family drama with a nice legal slant. It is too cliched and melodramatic to be a top-level film or Oscar material, though it doesn’t mean that it’s not good enough to fall somewhere between the next couple of rungs on the ladder.

I was far from optimistic that the film would deliver during its early scenes, when we were introduced to Hank Palmer (Downey Jr), an arrogant, selfish and extremely capable lawyer with no moral compass or qualms about setting guilty men free. And when he was forced to return to his country-town home in Indiana, the path of the character journey laid out in front of the audience just seemed way too obvious.

The truth is, The Judge rarely deviates from this path. There core of the film revolves around the damaged father-son relationship and the high-stakes court trial. While both aspects are admittedly executed well by director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), the film never manages to shake off that air of familiarity. Even the progression of the plot is expected — there are moments of bonding and conflict between father and son, as well as typical ups and downs in court. And we know the answers to the central mysteries of the film — the reason for their estrangement and the judge’s guilt — will come down to a climatic courtroom scene at the end.

General predictability is undoubtedly a problem with the film, though my concerns lie more with its excess of not-particularly-original subplots. There’s the whole hotshot-returns-to-home-he’s-trying-to-forget angle. There’s the ex-girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) he abandoned whom he still clearly has feelings for. There’s the cute daughter (Emma Tremblay) he is trying to connect with and trying to introduce to his father for the first time. There’s his strained relationship with the two brothers he left behind — the older one (Vincent D’Onofrio) whose once promising future was destroyed by a tragic accident, and the younger one (Jeremy Strong) who suffers from a mental disability. There’s even the prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton) on a mission of revenge and justice.

All of these subplots get enough screen time to be intriguing, but none receive sufficient attention to be satisfying. As a result the film’s focus is needlessly scattered and the tonal shifts sometimes come across as far from seamless.

Having said all that, The Judge is saved by it’s super ensemble cast, who elevate the script far above its value on paper. Whenever you throw award-winning and respected veteran thespians like Downey Jr, Duvall, Farmiga, Thornton and D’Onofrio together you know you’re in for some quality drama. Not everything worked, but there are some effective scenes scattered throughout the film. Thanks to the skill and chemistry of the cast, several set pieces that would have been trite and sappy in lesser hands ended up being quite emotional and engrossing.

Theoretically, a cynic like me should have disliked The Judge, a drama that embraces rather than avoids dramatic and courtroom cliches. To my surprise, however, I didn’t mind it, even when I knew I was being manipulated by scenarios similar to ones I had probably seen dozens of times before. It’s by no means perfect, and I don’t deny that it lacks the style and substance required to make it a memorable film, but I confess The Judge pulled enough of my heartstrings for me to call it a worthwhile and appreciable experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Faster (2010)

Faster is a strange film.  It has the feel of a classy production.  The director (George Tillman Jr — who directed Notorious) seems to know what he is doing.  There is a certain dark, noir-ish mood infused throughout.  It features a star studded cast — Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (looking bulkier than in recent times), Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood and Maggie Grace.  And yet, I found the whole thing incredibly uninspiring and forgettable.

Perhaps it’s the couldn’t-be-any-simpler plot — a guy (The Rock)  is just released from prison and decides to go on a killing rampage against the people that put him there in the first place (oh, and killed his beloved big brother).  There’s cops (Thornton and Gugino) chasing him.  And a hired assassin.  You get the drift — kill, chase, investigate and repeat until final climax.

Speaking of which, perhaps it’s the silly subplot with the beautiful genius assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and his lovely girlfriend (Maggie Grace) that spoiled it.  The dude is supposed to be some super-overachiever who needs a challenge to keep himself going — but they tried to be too cute with it and it came off looking contrived.  And besides, Jackson-Cohen can’t act.  He looked good but was horrible.

But perhaps the worst part was that the whole time, the secret mastermind behind everything was so obvious it stuck out like dog’s balls.

Accordingly, I had the bizarre feeling when watching Faster that I should be watching something that’s a lot better than what’s before my eyes.  It wasn’t awful, but it kept me wondering what all these stars saw in the script.  The gun-fight scenes were okay, as were the obligatory car chases.  Ultimately, however, I suppose the title of the film is apt, because I wanted it to end ‘faster.’

2 stars out of 5