Our Brand Is Crisis and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by David Gordon Green
I’m pretty sure I saw a trailer for this before every single movie in the last four or five months. Now that we finally get a chance to see this political dramedy about campaign management, does it actually turn out to be any good? Well this is basically a hodgepodge of people we like but who don’t always make the best career choices, such as Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, David Gordon Green as the director, and even George Clooney who’s producing this and will sometimes have a misstep. Will this be another great film from people we know can make great movies, or is this gonna be one big disaster that we only sometimes expect from them? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Sandra Bullock as Jane (colloquially known as Calamity Jane) who was at one time the best campaign manager in the United States. She won many elections in her career but along the way she developed a drug habit and became an alcoholic to the point that she started to become a laughing stock in her field and eventually checked into the Betty Ford clinic. The movie picks up several years later and she’s spent the intervening time alone in the woods in exile or something until two campaign managers Ben and Nell (Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd) who are working on a campaign in Bolivia and are so far behind that they’re desperate enough to try and call Jane out of retirement. When she finds out that their opponent is being managed by her rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) she agrees to go there and help out, but is quickly unimpressed by what she finds. A candidate who seems checked out and disinterested, a staff composed of idiots who can’t even speak Spanish, and polls that put the guy over twenty points behind their opposition. Can Jane get back into the swing of things and whip this campaign into shape, or will she end up losing herself again throughout this whole ordeal!?
It takes a while for the movie to get going and show you what it really is about, but the wait is very much worth it. For the first twenty minutes, we get a pretty brief backstory on Jane’s character and see that she has isolated herself from the world which is preferable to being a part of it which would most likely mean falling back into old habits. It’s clear right away though that she needs something in her life (her house is filled with pottery she’s made) and we’re basically watching her fall back into the groove of things, albeit fairly slowly. At first the slow build bothered me because it felt like the movie was filling time and they were also doing pretty lame jokes about Jane getting sick once she made it to Bolivia, but this quiet period ends up working because (like the audience) she is simply observing what’s going on with the campaign. This is also when the movie sets up the framing of the story which is focused entirely on the running of a campaign rather than the campaign itself. You never really get to know the candidate (though he is played amazingly well by the great Joaquim de Almeida) and you know even less about his policies. There’s one scene where Anthony Mackie tells Jane that this election is important, but the film never really gets into why that is. All that matters is that Jane is here to do what she’s good at and hopefully not get sucked into all the bullshit that came along with it. It also helps that this isn’t a US election which means it’s hard to even put Republican or Democrat tags on these guys and mentally backfill what their policies are, though I’m pretty sure the guy Jane is working for is a conservative. So what we have is a character piece about someone who’s REALLY good at what they do but has trouble doing it without going too far, and a non-partisan humorous examination of what goes into making a campaign work. That all sounds great, right? Well this is where we get into the film’s major problem. It tries WAY too hard to be funny.
Once it hits its stride it manages to stay strong for the most part, but is constantly interrupted by juvenile and unfunny asides that detract from what’s already a funny and insightful dark comedy. Good scenes will just be interrupted by pointless sight gags or random shtick like broken chairs, hot coffee, broken car windows, people being unable to say hieroglyphics, and of course Sandra Bullock waving her bare ass out of a bus window.
The worst example of this would be the drunken rampage which feels completely out of place. I get that the idea is that she’s falling back into bad habits due to getting back on the game (we saw her smoke a cigarette earlier) but it doesn’t have any real lasting consequences for her. Hell, if anything it’s what ends up endearing herself to Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), the local boy volunteering for the campaign who genuinely believes in this candidate. He becomes a pivotal role in the ending of the film so this scene is very important to establishing their friendship which overshadows her relapse. It’s just filled with too many shenanigans to have much dramatic weight, and the fact that she doesn’t get fired or even seriously reprimanded means that it can’t have any real consequences after the fact. Hell, she doesn’t even change much after that and I don’t even recall her taking another drink in the movie!
I also felt that the ending really dropped the ball. The movie up until that point felt like a nuanced condemnation of the detachment between those running the campaign to win it and the intended policies of the candidate while also showing respect to the skill and hard work needed to win one of these. It looked to be ending on somewhat of a bittersweet note, but then the movie goes completely in the opposite direction and takes a ham handed, black and white, and downright manipulative approach to saying that campaign managers are completely out of touch douche nozzles and that apparently running a campaign AT ALL is synonymous with the worst aspects of politics. In fact, politics itself is completely evil. No seriously, it gets THAT over the top. Not to go TOO much into spoilers here, but Sandra Bullock makes a decision at the end that feels completely out of character while the other campaign managers are acting all vain and whiney including at least one who was shown up to this point to be someone who actually cares about things. Also, Eddie’s character is supposed to be the heart of this and the ending is supposed to be inspirational I guess because he realizes the chicanery involved and gets completely disillusioned at the end, but he ends up coming off more as an idiot. He’s so idealistic throughout the campaign despite hanging out with the candidate for so long and even seeing him act like a checked out tool, yet feels COMPLETELY blindsided when he turns out to be another politician! I don’t get how a movie that took so much care in presenting the hard work and tough choices necessary to win an election can then go so far away from that to tell an uncomplicated moral about politics and campaigns. Were we supposed to be rooting against them the entire time then? Were we intended to sit there getting ever more pissed as they inch closer and closer to winning this because FUCK ALL POLITICS or something? I don’t know, but it just felt completely out of the blue and wasn’t necessary for a movie that didn’t feel the need to overburden itself with politics and messages up to this point.
All that said the script is genuinely humorous when it’s not trying too hard to be funny, the twists and turns of the plot are enjoyable to watch, and everyone in the cast gives fantastic performances. Sandra Bullock is an actor I’ve never really had an opinion of one way or the other, but I think she genuinely great here as someone who’s working hard to keep herself in check while also showing everyone else why she’s the best. There’s a lot of depth here (at least until the end) where she’s hyper aware of everything that’s going to happen and what’s needed to win this while everyone else is still struggling just to keep up. Billy Bob Thornton is perfect in this as well. The guy’s career is a catalog of scumbags and slime balls, but what sets this one apart is that he’s actually competent at what he does and uses these off-putting to his advantage. He wins this if he can get under Sandra Bullock’s skin, so he never lets up on the insults, harsh jabs, and inappropriate comments and it’s always fun to watch. That said, he does have the worst line in this entire movie.
So what can we learn here? Well, David Gordon Green is a bit of an eclectic director with films such as All the Real Girls, Joe, and Manglehorn sharing IMDB space with Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter. I think he was trying to blend comedy with drama here (similar to how he effortlessly did so in Eastbound & Down) but the combination here feels slapdash. It felt like there was a solid script here that got WAY too much up on it and it all blends together as well as oil and water. Maybe he was worried this wouldn’t work without some more humor, but adding it into a story that already has a lot of interesting things going on in it is a tough proposition in the first place. Don’t add comedy, unless it’s vitally important and do so only with a deft hand. Not only that but the ending as I said feels out place in a similar manner, what with its moral clashing somewhat with what we saw into the movie up until this point. Don’t add heavy handed messages if you’re not gonna bother to weave it in organically. I guess the lesson here is to not add shit to try to make a script better. If done improperly, they’ll just be distractions. I did like this movie overall, but unless you’re into political films or have a strong urge to watch Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton snipe at each other, you can probably wait to see this once it gets a home release.
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