Former political strategist Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is out of politics after several successful, and not so successful, campaigns. She has suffered with depression and substance abuse (leading to her nickname Calamity Jane) and being away from the stress, doing pottery in her cabin in the woods, has helped calm her mind. Nell and Ben (Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie) visit Jane hoping to get her to join their efforts on the campaign of Bolivian presidential candidate Senator Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) who is way behind in the polls with about three months left before election day. Advising the leading candidate is Jane’s rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Pat is more than willing to do anything to help his candidate win, a lesson Jane has learned several times already. Every time she has faced him, Jane has lost. Ben impresses upon Jane the importance of the election for the people of Bolivia which has a history of violent uprisings and bloody coup d’état. Feeling the rush of a political campaign quickly envelopes Jane in the excitement and fervor of competition and dirty tricks and soon some of her old habits begin to resurface.
“Our Brand is Crisis” is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name that followed American political consultants as they worked with candidates in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Having not seen that documentary I can’t say if the level of dirty tricks and shenanigans match up with what is in the movie. I can say the movie plays a bit of a dirty trick on the audience as it pounds the message of “win at all costs” for most of its running time then tries to become a feel-good story of redemption in the last few minutes. Like many sudden changes of heart, I didn’t buy it.
Sandra Bullock is fantastic in “Our Brand is Crisis.” Her intensity and comic sensibility mix well to make Jane Bodine a fascinating character. Starting out as a bit of an emotional and physical wreck, the pace and seriousness of the campaign begins to bring Jane back to life. Before long, she is a huge cheerleader for her candidate and it sweeps the other characters and the audience along whether we like it or not. Bullock is the soul of the film. It doesn’t work if the audience doesn’t accept Jane as a juggernaut, throwing out ideas and strategies while working with a candidate that doesn’t always believe in her plans. This leads to some of the best moments in the film when Jane must make the candidate agree with her ideas even when they go against his personal beliefs. Sometimes the dirtiest tricks are played against the candidate for whom you work.
Movies like “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Primary Colors” give what feels like an inside look at how modern political campaigns are run. As the old saying goes, “Don’t ask how the sausage is made.” While it is likely the film is highly fictionalized and the kinds of things shown don’t actually happen it does paint a picture that is somewhat damning of the campaign process and how easily the electorate can be swayed or distracted by meaningless controversies. “Our Brand is Crisis” takes a cynical look at modern politics and is, for the most part, highly entertaining.
Where the movie lost me is in the final few minutes. Without giving too much away, we are shown a driven, dedicated soldier that charges the enemy with no mercy then at the end we are shown the equivalent of that same soldier now walking a picket line protesting against everything she used to stand for. The movie wants us to believe everything Jane has done leads her to a moral awakening. The movie uses a friendship that develops between Jane and a young volunteer she names Eddie, played by Reynaldo Pacheco, as the catalyst of that awakening. Considering how long Jane has been fighting in the electoral trenches, it doesn’t seem like enough of a motivation for her to lay down her rhetorical weapons and begin fighting for the other side. It feels like an attempt to turn this political machine into something touchy-feely and it makes everything that comes before it meaningless. Perhaps that is the point: That everything she has done before was meaningless and now she is trying to make a positive impact on the world. If that was the message then the script writer didn’t do a good enough job of making the case that Jane was ripe for a conversion. Instead, it feels more like a sell out and a cheap attempt to force a happy ending on a film that didn’t necessarily need one.
“Our Brand is Crisis” is rated R for some sexual references and language. The sexual references are rather mild and there aren’t many of them. Foul language is scattered but sometimes intense.
I could almost overlook the ending of “Our Brand is Crisis” because Sandra Bullock is so good as Jane Bodine. The rest of the cast does a great job as well with kudos to Billy Bob Thornton for giving us a slimy but likable villain; however, the ending works so hard at trying to make us feel bad about enjoying the hijinks of the main characters it’s like a parent wagging a finger in your face for doing something bad. I don’t appreciate being scolded by my entertainment when it does such a great job of making Jane and Pat so amusing in their deviltry. The movie tries to have it both ways but fails to make a strong enough case for the main character’s conversion to philanthropy.
“Our Brand is Crisis” gets four stars for everything except the last five minutes.
This week it’s the return of Brown…Charlie Brown. There’s also some British spy movie coming out. I’ll see and review at least one of them.
The Peanuts Movie—
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