Behind every great political figure in history, there are a group of unknown people whispering in their ears, telling them what to say and what to do. We’d like to sit back and believe that the people essentially controlling our future are showing us their true selves, and have the best intentions in their minds and hearts for the people voting for them. Most political films focus entirely on these said politicians, or the people who help to bring them down like in All the President’s Men. Our Brand is Crisis however, the newest film from director David Gordon Green, focuses instead on the people behind the politicians, the snakes orchestrating their every move and word. Right down to the motivational quotes they slip into debates and press releases.
The movie follows “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a successful political campaign manager, who after a string of scandals, left the industry to live in a quiet, snowy valley to herself – where she likes to mold clay bowls and spiritual dishes. That is until she is approached by Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd), about coming on to help a quickly failing campaign in South America. While initially hesitant, Jane is quickly pulled back into the game after realizing the gig could give her one last shot at beating long-time rival, Pat Candy (played by the scene-chewing Billy Bob Thornton), who’s working as the manager for a competing candidate.
Journeying to South America, the film quickly introduces us to the rest of Jane’s team, including Buckley (Scoot McNairy), a mysterious dirt-digger named Leblanc (Zoe Kazan), a naive volunteer with a heart of gold named Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), and the wealthy, arrogant candidate himself in Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). After she spends a majority of her first few days on the campaign sick, and holding on dearly to her hand-crafted medicine bowl, Jane finally gets her groove back after a ridiculous series of events gives her candidate the opening she’s been waiting for.
What follows is a fairly oddball, competitive showcase of lies and deceit only quite possible in the political world, and while the film itself is entertaining, the message is either too heavy-handed or nonchalant at times for it to actually resonate with audiences once they walk out of the theatre. The movie is produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who also developed, starred in, and directed The Ides of March a few years ago, which also took place in the back-world of politics and campaigns. Though while Crisis focuses on a veteran pulled back into the dirt, Ides followed a new, naive campaign manager looking to do something right played by Ryan Gosling.
However, where Our Brand is Crisis could have been another forgettable addition to the political genre, Sandra Bullock’s Jane Bodine is just charismatic and strong enough of a character to warrant a viewing from film fans. There’s been a lot of talk about how she got the role in the film, after it was originally written for a man, before Bullock asked the producers if they’d be interested in gender-swapping it. What resulted from this decision is possibly one of the best female characters of the past few years, and its because of this that Our Brand is Crisis is given the energy it desperately needs in order to charge through its run time. She turns in one of her best performances here, and is every bit deserving of the praise she’s been receiving over the past few months.
The rest of the cast is solid as well with supporting players like Mackie, Kazan, Dowd, and McNairy never seeming to disappoint in anything they do, and it was refreshing to see such a high-caliber film filled with so many under-appreciated actors in the industry today, and hopefully audiences will finally start to recognize more of their talent here. Thornton has the most to do out of all of the side characters in the film though, and the interactions between his Pat Candy and Jane are when the film really starts to come to life, with the veteran actor bringing just the perfect kind of charm and sleaziness to make him both a caricature and believable person at the same time.
However, Crisis just feels too bland and predictable a majority of the time for it to really be as heavy of an awards-hitter as its late Fall release date promises. The movie is inspired by Rachel Boynton’s documentary of the same name, and while its premise and story is intriguing enough, the somewhat formulaic structure and pacing ultimately drags it down more than it elevates. I walked into the film expecting a kind of seething satire that its premise promised, and while it delivered on that in most ways, it ultimately fell short of being anything truly remarkable.
It’s clear that Clooney and Heslov are interested in this political sub-world, and Gordon Green does a fine job at navigating through the sometimes ridiculous plot and sequence of events, but their films never seem to dig past the surface grime and scum to ever make anything as long-lasting as some of its genre’s predecessors. Our Brand is Crisis is an ambitious, funny and absurd satire about puppet masters behind our politicians, but a predictable ending and message stop it from truly being anything more than a comedy about bad people. For a film about a group of political snakes, it lacked the poisonous venom I was hoping for.
Our Brand is Crisis is in theatres nationwide now.
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