Monday, October 26, 2015

“Our Brand Is Crisis”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new political comedy-drama, “Our Brand Is Crisis” starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton.


When a woman is hired as a political consultant in a Bolivian presidential campaign, will she be able to both defeat an old competitor and prevent a nationwide revolution?


There’s good reason noted political strategist Jane Bodine (Bullock) earned the nickname “Calamity Jane” – she has a genuine knack for introducing a modicum of chaos wherever she goes.  One such incident from a while back resulted in the unintended death of an innocent person, which caused Jane’s self-imposed exile from the business.  When a management team running the campaign for a Bolivian presidential candidate implores her to return, Jane reluctantly agrees, only to learn that Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), the candidate in question, is trailing in the polls by 30 points. 

Castillo, currently a Senator, was once the nation’s president – but this is working against him more than it is working for him; his term became controversial when he privatized many businesses, causing protests and riots after citizens feared his actions would result in a loss of their control.  Once Jane begins working for Castillo, she learns her longtime foe, Pat Candy (Thornton), has been hired in a similar capacity to assist Rivera, Castillo’s opponent.  Eventually, this leads to Jane becoming motivated to exact revenge on Candy for all of the dirty tricks he’s pulled in the past.

Despite getting off to something of a rocky start, Jane finally sees an opportunity to market her candidate in a way that will make him more palatable to the voting public.  Castillo starts inching his way up in the polls while certain unscrupulous tactics by Jane simultaneously winds up with other candidates slipping in their rankings.  By the time the elections roll around, Castillo just barely ekes out a victory in a plurality win.  Shortly thereafter, word leaks out that even before he can take office, Castillo is already reneging on one of his most important campaign promises.  When the citizens threaten to revolt, will Jane cut her losses and run or can she somehow find a way to right a wrong she inadvertently caused?   


“Our Brand Is Crisis” was originally inspired by a documentary of the same name about a decade earlier.  Perhaps it would be better if you saw the documentary rather than this fictionalized version.  Aspiring to be a comedy-drama, “Our Brand Is Crisis” winds up being effective as neither – it’s not funny enough to be considered a comedy nor can it be taken seriously enough to be considered a drama.  This is one of those stories where the audience is expected to root for the heroine because she is seeking redemption by the end of the movie; the reason why we are ultimately unable to root for her redemption is that we don’t see her suffer enough for it to be deserved. 

Often, screenplays are judged by whether or not the protagonist has an arc – that is to say, do they undergo a substantial change by the end of the movie?  In “Our Brand Is Crisis”, there is such an arc for Jane, but the question becomes how plausible is that transformation?  After Jane spends a considerable amount of the film behaving just as badly as Candy, it is only in the last few minutes that she appears to regret her actions; as she states to a disillusioned Castillo supporter following the election, “the means justify the end” – there is no point where she clearly renounces either her deeds or her profession (except for a brief interview which bookends the bulk of motion picture).

The movie tries to look skeptically at the political process, making the point that no matter which country, the game is crooked and that public service is far from a noble profession.  While it may effectively make this point, it also doesn’t speak well about America, showing how we have a need to insinuate ourselves into the political process of other nations, even though we have no business doing so.  Although the intention behind “Our Brand Is Crisis” may have been to say that one person can effect change, it seems the main message is not to bother voting.   

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015) on IMDb

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