Our Brand is Crisis, loosely based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, stars Sandra Bullock as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, an astute political consultant hired by former Bolivian president Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), a fictional character based on former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Despite his last tenure ending in controversy and behind in the polls, Bodine faces a daunting task in cleaning up Castillo’s past and image, giving him another shot at leadership.
However, Bodine can barely muster the interest, at least not until her long time rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) works against her as the political aide to Castillo’s opponent, the much more likable Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella).
Now, it’s a personal battle for Bodine to win the election for Castillo, not just for the sake of the nation and its disadvantaged and exploited indigenous citizens, but so a politico can feel good about winning. Whether intentional or not, this is the cynical point the film promotes.
There’s barely anything to discuss about a film which lacks the inspiration in taking a political stance while feeling lifeless in the process. There’s just no pinpointing what this film wants to be, vacillating between comedy, drama, satire, without ever managing to fully fit in any of them. More often, it almost feels like a flat-out comedy; there’s one scene where Bodine slips off her plane as they land in Bolivia and has to schlepp an oxygen tank around with her. Then there’s the llama that’s inexplicably run over by a car during the filming of a political ad, in what can only be described as a throwaway scene.
Strange that this film would waste such an interesting topical subject. It’s a far cry for director David Gordon Green, who has directed more profound and arguably darker – and better – films in the past decade like George Washington and Snow Angels. Then again, Green can be hit or miss, too, with unfunny comedies like The Sitter and Your Highness, so there’s that.
Furthermore, the lack of profound thought is astounding, with Bodine and Candy’s past barely glossed over as a justification for some kind of forced characterization. The rivalry is apparent the moment we’re introduced to Candy, and though both reveal details about their past, that is as far as the film goes. Whatever Bodine’s insecurities may be are lost in an inane and basic plot that never rises to the challenge of being interesting.
A film about politics should be, well, political. Yet Crisis is completely apolitical – even when set in a South American nation where the political atmosphere is usually mired in corruption, the film seems unsure how to handle such a gift-wrapped package.
Basically, the film feels like Bullock is reprising her “white knight” role from The Blind Side, only instead of saving a disadvantaged African American teenager, she’s meddling in Latin American affairs while naively attempting to help a whole country. I’m convinced the latter is the real point here, one that’s completely lost and mishandled. She befriends political volunteer and Bolivian denizen Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco) while feeling pity for his living situation in one of the most hackneyed, forced, and pointless scenes in the film.
Our Brand is Crisis is a much wasted opportunity from director David Gordon Green and scribe Peter Straughan, who wrote the fantastically complex Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), but couldn’t seem to conjure that film’s depth here. Sandra Bullock does the best she can with limited resources and it’s really a testament to her abilities that she makes her loathsome character somewhat watchable.
Our Brand is Crisis is a mediocre political satire that lacks both satirical wit and political bite, instead settling for a dull gnawing. Apart from wasting the talents of Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, the film’s straightforwardness hampers the plot and the superficial politics add nothing of interest to this lifeless exercise in misdirection. The real crisis here was the inability to make a good film with so much talent involved.