Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Movie Review: Our Brand is Crisis

Our Brand is Crisis
Directed by: David Gordon Green.
Written by: Peter Straughan suggested by the documentary by Rachel Boynton.
Starring: Sandra Bullock (Jane), Billy Bob Thornton (Pat Candy), Anthony Mackie (Ben), Joaquim de Almeida (Castillo), Ann Dowd (Nell), Scoot McNairy (Buckley), Zoe Kazan (LeBlanc), Dominic Flores (Hugo), Reynaldo Pacheco (Eddie), Louis Arcella (Rivera), Octavio Gómez Berríos (Pepe), Luis Chávez (Abraham).

The career of director David Gordon Green has been an interesting one. It started with four low budget films – George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels – that show the influence of Terrence Malick (who signed on as a producer on some of them) – and were slow, brilliantly photographed films that reveal their characters, and their locations, wonderfully. These four made him one of my favorite young directors – but didn’t make very much money. He then moved into mainstream comedy with Pineapple Express (which was wonderful), and then Your Highness and The Sitter (which were not). Since then, he has struggled a little to regain his footing – Prince Avalanche with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, tried to bridge the gap between his early work and the comedy, with limited success, Joe, starring Nicolas Cage at his best, is the best of his recent work, Manglehorn, with Al Pacino, was interesting, but not very successful, and character piece. Green started as a director with a distinctive style all his own – you knew you were watching a David Gordon Green film. Now, you have no idea.

His latest is Our Brand is Crisis – a political satire starring Sandra Bullock as “Calamity” Jane – a political strategist who has had more failures in recent years than successes, and is all but out of the game, when she hired to come down to Bolivia and help the Presidential campaign of Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who is way behind in the pools, and is seen as being out of touch with the problems of real Bolivia – and is widely believed to want to contact the IMF the moment he is elected, which is apparently a very bad thing, although the movie never really explains way. Jane doesn’t really know or care about what a win for Castillo would actually mean for Bolivia – she just wants to win, especially since the current frontrunner has hired Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), her arch nemesis that she has never beaten, as his advisor. Jane arrives, and immediately starts to trying to change the message of Castillo’s campaign – to tell everyone Bolivia is in crisis, and only he can see it – and humanize him.

Most of the movie is played as a political comedy, with snappy dialogue that Bullock handles well, as does Billy Bob Thornton, and the rest of the cast. A little bit of lip service is paid to the people of Bolivia – mainly in the form of Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), who idolizes Castillo, and works on the campaign, and eventually shows Jane how he and his friends live in the slums. It isn’t pretty. The film has some nice bits of comedy – a dead llama for example – and for his part, Green keeps the pacing of the movie up and its all somewhat entertaining.

Yet the movie never quite works. It all seems so lightweight and inconsequential – that no one involved is taking it all that seriously. Perhaps that would less of a problem, but the end of the movie begs to be taken seriously – and offers an out of nowhere left turn where it tries to make you care for a character who had spent the rest of the movie basically be amoral (as all the other Americans in the movie are). Our Brand is Crisis either needed to take that whole conversion more seriously – or abandon it altogether. As it stands, the result is a rather toothless movie – it pulls its punches early, so it can deliver its would-be knock-out punch late – but as it stands, it doesn’t really land any of them. The cast – especially Bullock, who I think can go darker – deserved better than what they got. And the career of David Gordon Green keeps getting murkier.

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