There have been considerable political films throughout the years that have shrewdly exposed the cutthroat game of politics and the sharp satire was immensely felt without question. In satirizing the underbelly of deceptive politicking—whether domestic or foreign—there has to be a strong sense of cynicism and truth with caustic humor as the foundation for the perceptive microscope examining the outlandishness. There can only be a certain elite class of films that demonstrate such penetration and probing into the political spectrum of strident skepticism. After all, not many pundit pictures in the arena of political turmoil can effectively skewer the consciousness of doubters willing to go along in the authoritative malaise of our so-called policymakers.
Sure, not every attempt at political satire will hit its mark in stride and freshness. Classic offerings such as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or even lighter and impish selections as Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog or Mike Nichols’s Primary Colors have proven to possess the right touch of roving ridicule to convey its point of naughty outrage and reflection. In David Gordon Green’s well-meaning but repetitive and lightweight political put-on Our Brand is Crisis we revisit the familiar behind-the-scenes corruption and chaos all shielded by political white-washing. The trouble with Crisis is that it does not have the convincing and energetic punch to compete or compare to the class of other films that have touched upon these familiar shady political themes with more forceful bite.
Indeed, Our Brand is Crisis has its witty moments and it is cheeky enough to tip toe through its see-saw penchant for tension and ticklish situations. Plus, the casting of the Oscar-winning Sandra Bullock (known for both her forte into dramatic and comedic turns) as a glib and weary consultant called into action seemed like a suitable fit for the resilient actress. Still, Our Brand is Crisis merely dabbles, drips and drags at revealing the American presence of political operatives in a South American country that cries corruption in its flawed political system. Hence, there is nothing really juicy or jolting about Brand that would suggest a distinctive or dire take in its observation as political pretentiousness as usual.
Our Brand of Crisis is the fictionalized account based on Rachel Boynton's 2005 documentary that is similarly titled. Boynton's narrative solely focused on the 2002 presidential election in Bolivia. Well, director Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan imagine their big screen version of Boynton's exposition with Bullock at the helm as "Calamity" Jane Bodine, a once crafty-minded consultant called back into service after experiencing a nervous breakdown and retreating to an idyllic existence away from the political spotlight.
Pulling Calamity Jane away from her resting mode based on the urgency for her input into the Bolivian presidential scene are current consultants Nell and Ben (Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie) whose hats are thrown in the ring of former president and now senator Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). They need Calamity Jane's pit bull prowess to ensure that their candidate Castillo can prevail over the favorable and formidable likes of political rival Rivera (Louis Arcella). However, Calamity Jane's stamina is tested by the Bolivia surroundings making her constantly queasy. Also, the candidate she is representing in Castillo is not exactly her cup of tea either.
Calamity Jane's blunt blueprint for putting the failing campaign of Catillo on track over the popular front-runner Rivera is quite effective in manipulation. The plan: Bodine must invent for Castillo an imaginary "crisis" for the country in an attempt to put some cloudiness in the less experienced Rivera's booming candidacy. Any emerging conflict to baffle the country into panic will ultimately benefit the veteran Castillo over the wet-behind-the-ears endearing Rivera. It is a dirty agenda but hey...Jane Bodine is the mistress of madness and there is a reason why she was summoned to get involved and parlay Castillo to victory because her tricks and tactics have some shifty merit attached. Whether authorizing bogus and negative ad campaigns against Rivera or stirring up concocted panic to swirl around doubt that can question Castillo's opponent's qualifications Bodine certainly does not leave any rocks unturned in her relentless quest to put her assigned candidate over the top in the polls.
One cannot possibly overlook Calamity Jane's other motive for jumping on board and aiding the Castillo camp to triumph over his celebrated Bolivian rival. Apparently at stake is the former alcoholic Bodine's bruised ego, unflinching competitive nature and regrettable incompleteness cause by one Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Candy was instrumental in defeating Bodine in a previous political showdown so now it is her turn for redemption as she seeks to hand Candy some humble pie as her candidate must defeat his candidate (yes, Candy is working for the front-running Rivera) as the battle of political wits resurfaces on Bolivian soil.
In a sense Our Brand is Crisis is challenging and ambitious with its concept of American political outsiders enforcing their superior will and ways on a foreign country as they subject an already pressured people and government to more scrutinized and mischievous practices beset by seemingly corruptible Yankee intruders. But this is the main problem because Crisis never rises to the occasion of following up on the interesting dilemma it wants to poke a stick at with cautionary, dark-seeded chuckles.
Straughan's screenplay is too pedestrian and soft to tackle the outcry set forth in allowing these seedy American political strategists to manipulate, malign and woefully motivate the political process being shaped in a foreign country they are conveniently using for their own beleaguered backyard. Why not take a hearty potshot at such nerviness pertaining to the American political machine interfering abroad? And even if this is what Crisis was doing in its raucous skin the film still did not dig deep enough to find any resolution in such perceived outlandishness.
In order to be an enticing political satire the presentation has to show some bold and blunt sentiments behind its proposed purpose of cynicism. Our Brand is Crisis simply hints at its misplaced naughtiness without adding any decisive meat to the bone of contempt. Is Bullock's calculating political strategist a cold-heart villainess without morals or practical and procedural iron woman playing an appropriate mean round of political poker? Is there more to former President Castillo's stint in office the first time around that may have caused second thoughts in the public's minds not to trust him with executive power once again? Also, Crisis seems mighty clumsy and awkward at times in its balancing of dramatic effect and comical lapses.
If anything Our Brand is Crisis can be likened to the handling of a fancy gun. Sure, it is impressive to look at hold momentarily in your hands. However, when it comes to actually pulling the trigger the question remains will it convincingly shoot real bullets that make an impact or settle for delivering routine blanks on the spot? In this case Crisis should never have left its holster.
Our Brand is Crisis (2015)
Warner Bros. Pictures
1 hr. 47 mins.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Ann Dowd, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Louis Arcella
Directed by: David Gordon Green
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Political Satire/Dramedy
Critic's rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng (2015)
**Campaigners, candidates and the citizens, everybody on the streets of Bolivia.**
The film was okay, but you have already seen it. This is the same old story where in America, the presidential running candidates do everything they can to win the precious votes, but here it takes place in a different country. Not bad actually, but disappointment is the American influence. Now I tell the truth that it was inspired by the real event. There's already a documentary film made, but now they altered it little and made a political-comedy.
The two campaign runners from the United States goes to Bolivia to aide two different candidates and becomes themselves confront once again. To gain the momentum, they have to go any length, so the fun begins when each others pull their legs. But who's going to stand ultimately and with what tactic is to be revealed in the next half of the film.
I think, except the American characters dominance, the film was refreshing like the locations, supporting cast wise. But actors like Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton et cetera holds the key. Obviously the star power is one reason and the other is for keeping the real event's touch. The film does not work for everyone, it did do nothing for me. The director of 'Pineapple Express' failed to deliver. But it was a bad screenplay, underdeveloped or maybe lacks some good lines and strong scenes. I totally suggest you to skip it, you would miss nothing.