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New Release Review - OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

An increasingly disenfranchised American campaign manager is hired by a corrupt Bolivian presidential candidate.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan



Our Brand is Crisis is the sort of film that sells us a loveable rogue and asks us to embrace and revel in their corrupt ways before spanking our bottoms with a climactic lecture on morality. Be they Bolivian voters or cinemagoers, the people deserve better.



We seem to be in the midst of a growing trend of movies adapted from or mining territory and subjects previously covered in acclaimed documentaries. Man on Wire gave birth to Robert Zemeckis's The Walk; the Paradise Lost trilogy to Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot; the short doc Freeheld to the misjudged feature of the same name. Now the 2005 doc Our Brand is Crisis, which detailed the presidential campaigns of two wannabe Bolivian leaders managed by American PR gurus, has become a 'dramedy' in the hands of director David Gordon Green and screenwriter David Straughan.
A miscast Sandra Bullock is 'Calamity' Jane Bodine, a former political consultant lured out of retirement to oversee the Bolivian presidential campaign of Pedro Castillo (Fred Ward lookalike Joaquim de Almeida), a highly unpopular figure with the country's indigenous majority population due to his cosying up to the IMF. Bodine has one hell of a fight on her hands, as Castillo lies in fourth place at the beginning of her campaign, and the prime candidate, Rivera (Louis Arcella), is himself managed by another slick American, Jane's long-time rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), whose slimy sexual harassment is problematically played for laughs here.
David Gordon Green has divided his career between indie character studies like George Washington, Joe and Manglehorn, and dumb as a bag of barber shop hair comedies like Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter. I'm not sure which Gordon Green was asked to attend the shooting of Our Brand is Crisis, but it seems both showed up and spent the rest of the production arguing over possession of the megaphone and viewfinder.
We're told at several points throughout the film that this is serious business, and of course, being a democratic election to decide the future of a nation of 10 million people, it is. Yet for the most part the film plays out as borderline broad comedy. Bullock's Bodine is written as though she was plucked randomly from the populace as part of some sort of Trading Places inspired bet, and the part seems to have been conceived for Melissa McCarthy. Bodine smokes, gets drunk every night and lives on a diet of potato chips and Paul Newman's steak sauce, yet somehow manages to look like Sandra Bullock. Bodine can't turn a corner without putting her foot in a waste bin, and by her third pratfall I was quickly beginning to lose patience with the film. Despite her miscasting, Bullock does manage to make something of such a poorly penned role, bringing a level of commitment largely missing from the rest of the film.
Like most movies that employ its template (usually of the crime variety), Our Brand is Crisis is the sort of film that sells us a loveable rogue and asks us to embrace and revel in their corrupt ways before spanking our bottoms with a climactic lecture on morality. Here, both Bodine and the film itself get endings neither has earned. Be they Bolivian voters or cinemagoers, the people deserve better.
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