MOVIE REVIEW: Our Brand is Crisis (2016)

Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Peter Straughan (screenplay), Rachel Boynton (documentary)
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie

When a retired Political Consultant is approached about helping a Bolivian Presidential hopeful to be elected she is reluctant at first. Her deeply embedded personal issues keep getting in the way of doing her job. When an old rival shows up, helping one of the other hopefuls, it triggers her competitive side and the election heats up.

Sandra Bullock stars as Jane, the Political Consultant, who her colleagues and the media have nicknamed ‘Calamity’ and the nickname is well deserved. Most of her workmate’s are playing the game properly, putting their ideas to the Candidate and then going along with the decision. But Jane gets into the face of the hopeful and forces her will upon them. Should the Candidate disagree with her she uses underhanded techniques to get her own way. In the political arena this is often a harsh way to go about things. What I loved here is the mix between movies and TV that obviously influenced the film and you can see them all, from In the Loop, The West Wing, Wag the Dog, and Primary Colours, the stamp of these great pieces of entertainment are clear.

The story of an Ex President, with a history of having an Iron Fist, wanting to be brought back to the power he lost, is a great way of telling a different story to the norm. Normally we would have a greenhorn politician, with ideals and morals, slowly being worn down by the system they must work in to get to their goals. Here we have Joaquim de Almeida as Castillo, the former President who wants back in, his past filled with mistakes that he’s not ashamed of, and Almeida is perfect for this role and while the part isn’t as fleshed out as it could have been it’s just a good fit. The team around him and Jane includes Falcon Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd, and Zoe Kazan, all of whom add serious weight to this drama. I say drama but the comedy is there too, but it’s not an out-and-out comedy. The seriousness of the situation in Bolivia with economic, social, and equality is brilliantly managed, although at some times this Grant Heslov and George Clooney produced film gets a little too preachy for its own good. Not that it takes much away from the film, the characters are so well done that you just jump in to the film and lose yourself to the story.

As the film moves along, and it does so with an ease of pace, you start to know that it is not going to dumb itself down to appeal to the masses. It stands up like a good Candidate in any election and says what it means. We don’t need to lower the bar in order to make the story appeal to everyone, those who get this will just love it, and keep coming back to see it time and time again. Those who won’t get it, well lets just say that they wouldn’t get it even if you spent the rest of your precious time on this planet explaining it to them. Bolivia looks fantastic as the setting of the film, with the cultural differences being shown to be the same as most other countries, and the unrest of the poor who face most of the hardships as the country struggles to get financially stable.

Bullock for me is always watchable, I did lose interest in her career when she constantly put out terrible comedies and those pure rom coms that I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she must have been contract locked to star in. Here I think that she has one of the most testing roles of her career, she’s witty and sharp, but in the same breath so fragile that you don’t know what is going to set her off. Billy Bob Thornton plays her rival Pat Candy, he’s a brilliant Political strategist but has an uncomfortable manner about him. Thornton is always great in these roles and I just wish there was slightly more of him.

For those of you who liked the films mentioned above Our Brand is Crisis is for you, it knows what story it wants to tell, tries and succeeds in putting its own spin on things, and gives some talented actors a lot to work with. While a little preachy through the film, with the creative talent on board it was always going to be, you can still enjoy the madness of the political campaign and then watch the next year of American Presidential campaigns and draw the lines between the two. This is great entertainment if you want to use your brain.

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