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