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Movie Review of the Week – “Our Brand is Crisis”

Movie Review of the Week – “Our Brand is Crisis”
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Sometimes all the elements of a great movie come together and add up to…..a mediocre movie. In the case of David Gordon Green’s “Our Brand is Crisis”, two Oscar winning actors, a script inspired by real events, and a timely political backdrop can’t save the day.

With the American political race already providing us with more entertainment and zeitgeist moments than we can handle, it’s almost overload to release a film about an election campaign, even if it is a satirical comedy loosely drawn from actual events. Screenwriter Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) uses the background of the 2002 Bolivian election to fictionalize a story about dueling American political strategists orchestrating cutthroat campaigns for political opponents in South America. Occasional scenes of trenchant dialogue are lost amid a meandering, preachy script about self-invention and inner healing.

It’s well documented by now that Sandra Bullock’s role as Jane Bodine, political spin doctor extraordinaire, was originally written for a man.  Bravo for producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney (and Exec. Prod. Bullock, natch) for seeing beyond gender barriers. But to then write a female character that is so burdened with character clichés strikes an uncomfortable chord. Bodine is a Bullock specialty: a sexy, smart woman who is adorably bumbling and messed up. After crashing and burning after her last job, Bodine lives a monk-ish existence, having giving up cigarettes and booze in favor of pot throwing and an apolitical existence (what she is living on is anyone’s guess). Can former colleagues Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) pull her out of her slump for one last job? Can she wow the room despite her disheveled (but sexy) appearance and tendency to stumble down stairs and throw up in trashcans?

You betcha. Especially when Jane hears that her longtime nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) will be stumping for the opposition. So Jane shows up in La Paz, trailing her oxygen tank (the altitude is debilitating) and sets to work changing public perception about her candidate, the former President Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) hoping for reelection. I’m not sure by now that anyone will be shocked to learn of the devious ways that campaigns are run behind the scenes, where hair styles and TV appearances win or lose races and everything is orchestrated down to the tiniest detail. Straughan’s satire therefore falls flat as Bullock and Thornton face off in a series of antic one-upmanship. Late in the film, there is a gotcha scene that almost excuses the drivel that has gone on for over an hour, but I’m not sure if was worth the wait.

Thornton can do this type of slick, over-confidant role in his sleep and he’s still fun to watch as he channels James Carville with a devilish grin. The sexual frisson between Candy and Bodine is implicit but luckily not exploited for RomCom points. Bullock’s Jane is supposed to be know-it-all-y and annoying, but instead Bullock’s performance is the annoyance as she tries to look cute in native Bolivian hats and in “comic” action scenes.

Suddenly in the eleventh hour, what was just an attempt at biting political satire wants to be a consciousness-raising social drama, more akin to a film by Costa-Gavras. The last scene had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  Early on, Jane quotes “People don’t remember what you say. They remember how you made them feel”.   I will certainly remember how I felt sitting through this.





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