Take a Drink: every time political philosophy 101 is spoon-fed into the story
Take a Drink: for clear black and white storytelling in a grey-shaded world
Take a Drink: for out of place physical comedy
Do a Shot: when any character drinks
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
“Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is a political strategist who is pulled out of retirement to run the campaign of a struggling Presidential candidate in Bolivia. When in-country, the bouts of depression that she thought she left behind after quitting return immediately, as she is confronted with her nemesis in the industry, an A Number One sonofabitch named Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
Candy is an ace at playing mind games, and Jane has never won a campaign against him. Feeling her attachment to the game return, mostly in the name of revenge, she commits to her work in earnest, even making the mistake that no political strategist should; actually believing her own marketing…
… Pant-less Sandra Bullock is pretty much always acceptable.
In all seriousness, there are some positive things to say about this movie. First off; Sandra Bullock’s depiction of clinical depression is very convincing, and lends some extra gravity to her character (only to be torpedoed by a topic I’ll discuss in Beer Three).
Director David Gordon Green depicts Bolivia in a three-dimensional way for the most part. The country is never talked down to, and in fact, the way it treats the complexity of the social, cultural, and political issues facing the country feels researched and palatable. As the face of Bullock’s political campaign, Joaquim de Almeida is solid, showing him as a man who keeps his true self close to his chest, and one who has very specific ideas for how to better serve his country. The film never depicts him as an Evil Man, nor as a Saint, but as a person whose convictions are solid, but may or may not match with the will of the people he wishes to preside over.
The screenwriters love to quote political philosophy; in fact, political philosophy quotations play a pivotal role in moving the story along. Which marks the single time in history that anything was resolved by quoting Machiavelli.
I find it ridiculous that political strategists will quote basic political theory. It seems like they’d have a much deeper knowledge base to pull from. Or if they did choose to quote someone like Machiavelli they would at least think to grab pull-quotes that aren’t the most basic of Poly-Sci talking points.
The film starts off on the wrong foot from the beginning, alternating between dramatic and slapstick comedic sequences with no regard for pacing. Sandra Bullock is an actress whose propensity for physical comedy is well known, and equally well known is how terrible she is at it.
Her character is supposed to be empathetic because of her bouts with depression (which Bullock depicts quite admirably). But as soon as you begin to feel the weight of her difficult choices, there will be a joke made where she falls down, or has trouble breathing in a high altitude environment, or she will vomit from eating too many potato chips. This kind of “boobery” wouldn’t fly in most romantic comedies, much less a political drama that aspires to (and fails at) satire. Additionally, the way her character rationalizes her poor decisions presents her as something more sinister, almost sociopathic. This contrasts with the humorous scenes completely, and when you throw in the late-stage redemption moment, it is indeed all too little, too late.
Speaking of the film’s denouement (and I don’t care if I get into spoilers, because nobody is watching this movie anyway), at the end, Bullock’s character joins an anti-government rally in glorious soft-focus and slow motion to protest the same people she helped get into office, and the film ends by telling us she’s now part of a Latin American advocacy group. Rather than revel in the power of a country’s own people to take charge of crisis, the film hints that she is White Knighting herself. There have been too many movies made about the White upper class douche who “fixes the worlds problems”, and this film is just one more particularly frustrating example.
The film’s greatest sin is in the way it utterly fails to deliver its message. With a fascinating concept like American campaign experts holding sway over the future of a third world country’s future, this could have been a powerful statement about corruption and the lies told in an environment where Marketing is the way to get elected. Instead it feels like a first-year college student fresh out of his 101 Poly-Sci class has something to say at the dinner table.
With a better script, Our Brand is Crisis could have made an important statement about the dirty tricks and scheming of political campaigning. This is at best a missed opportunity.