I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
It can be said that movies are usually a marker for what is going on in culture during a specific era. Not necessarily an entire genre, but more of a cluster of specifically-themed movies that are released over a certain span of years. For instance, the early-mid 80s were signified with the rise of slasher movies that could reflect the strict moral standards held by the Reagan Adminstration; having premarital sex, drinking, smoking, etc. would lead to your doom.
However, the political comedy is something that will happen no matter the decade. From DR. STRANGELOVE to IN THE LOOP, there will always be something scathing to relate to a current aspect of the political spectrum. It can either be made to point out hypocrisy in the current government landscape (which is often the case) or as a metaphor to connect to the audience by way of a national discourse. In David Gordon Green’s OUR BRAND IS CRISIS, the film is obviously in existence to point out how politics, no matter the nation, are used in gaining votes from image rather than truth.
The movie opens with a title sequence regarding the main character Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) and her rise and fall from hotshot political strategist/image consultant to campaign kryptonite; she even is given the clever poisonous brand of Calamity Jane. After the montage ends, we meet Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd) as the visit Jane in her isolated cabin to convince her to get back in the game. They are part of a presidential campaign in Bolivia for Sen. Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), and need a Hail Mary as they’re down 28 points in the polls. Jane agrees to go after some slight hesitation.
Once they arrive however, she realizes that it’s much worse than she initially thought. Castillo has no charisma, a stoic presentation, and he also used to be president 15 years ago, which is why the people despise him. She spends most of the beginning of her tenure with altitude sickness, which she constantly uses as an excuse to stay out of this lost cause. However, once she is met by the chief rival’s consultant, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who is her chief rival, the fire for competition is rekindled and she gets to work.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS has some really good stuff going for it throughout its story. First of all, the performances are on point. Bullock and Thornton use the underdog vs. bully dynamic to a tee, even though neither of them are really apologetic in their actions. We only see Pat as a jerk so of course he has no apology; Jane, on the other hand, reverts back to the old ways of winning at any costs, along with other bad habits. I waited for the inevitable regret, but she thankfully never goes there. Also the supporting performances are fast-moving to mirror the swift thinking that Jane uses to be successful. None of them ever waver in their main goal, from Ben and Nell being sounding board, to Buckley (Scoot McNairy) and Leblanc giving expertise, they all form a well-oiled machine.
Also, director David Gordon Green does a few nice touches to make certain moments stand out and give the picture some gravitas. For example, my favorite scene in the movie is when Pat starts letting Jane know that she’s on the same level he’s on; playing with monsters will make her eventually become one. The scene made me take a step back because it goes from Pat being in frame with Jane to the camera solely focusing on his reflection as he pummels her with reality. Also, he frames the humor well so that shots linger a little longer when the jokes are laced with vitriol.
All of that being said, the main problem with the movie is that it doesn’t know what type of story it wants to tell. It looks like it wants to be a satire, but it doesn’t really go for the throat of the political game it brings to the forefront. Some instances make it look like this could be a dramedy, however there are no characters it actually takes the time to study, including Jane. Sen. Castillo is neither a buffoon nor a personality to react to when he comes onscreen, so why is his election important to the viewer? The movie lacks any sort of importance in what it’s doing with the narrative, and it left me feeling hollow once it ended.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS seemed to be more of an example of what could have been, rather than something memorable. While I enjoyed the performances, what surrounded them was a convoluted attempt to bring dirty politics into the spotlight. Furthermore, it’s based off of Rachel Boynton’s documentary of the same name, which means that this movie is based off of real events in a divided country; the division among the country’s people is depicted in the film, but as an opposition to victory.
If you’re going to bring the dirty politics to the forefront, dive into that world. We are in a current jaded perspective when it comes to politics, so use that to create a statement other than a glorification of those tactics. OUR BRAND IS CRISIS tries to succeed as satire without being truly satirical, and it loses out in the end by a slight margin.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS opens today.