Our Brand is Crisis wants to be two things. It wants to be a scathing indictment of the modern political process, where candidates are willing to do and say almost anything to get elected. On the other it wants to give Sandra Bullock, who’s staked her career on being the likable actress, a happy ending with a redemptive story arc.
Unfortunately it only does one of these things well.
Simple premise. Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) is a Bolivian Presidential candidate down by nearly 30 points and desperate to win. His team brings in “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a campaign strategist who’s been out of the game for some time. She’s meant to be disposable, someone to pin blame on if and when he loses. She succeeds beyond her wildest dreams as reshapes Castillo’s campaign, competing against the one campaign strategist (Billy Bob Thornton) she’s never been able to beat in a campaign.
The film is a brilliant black comedy, looking into the modern machinations of the American political process (albeit transported to South America) and how it’s not about the people anymore. It’s about the process. The film is non partisan and skewers everything about it, which is kind of refreshing in an era where taking shots at one side or the other is fairly standard practice in movies. It’s so dark that it’s almost uncomfortable at times.
This is watching how they make sausage, a skewering of the process but not of ideology, What is most impressive about the film is how Sandra Bullock is able to make Jane into a likable character despite everyone in the film being pitted to make her into a fairly indefensible human being. Jane isn’t a good person, not in the slightest, but Bullock is so likable in the part that the film’s awful finale feels like a tribute to her and not the character.
Bullock has an inherent likability to the role, something that most actresses couldn’t bring to the role, and it makes us not view the whole process as wholly detestable. Bullock makes us want to cheer for a character we otherwise wouldn’t because she has that inherent charisma and likability that makes Jane into something resembling a protagonist in this film. Jane’s not a good person, not in the slightest, but through Bullock she feels like someone who was once a good, idealistic person who stayed too long and now just does it because it’s what she does. There’s a sense that without politics she’d have done something more profound with her life than what she has.
Unfortunately the film really wants her to have a happy ending and the one it should’ve stuck with winds up turning more into a “what have I become” type of moment than the self actualization that she isn’t a good person that the film seems to be leading to. Jane isn’t conflicted with what she does; there’s never a hint that she has this lifetime of regret building up over the course of the movie. The film’s climatic moment towards the end is Jane as she really is; she’s cold and calculated, not a political whore with a heart of gold.
It gives the film a happy ending it doesn’t need or warrant. The final moments of Our Brand is Crisis should be Jane walking away, comfortable in knowing that she became the sort of monster that she always denied herself being. That winning was important, not what happens after. The film’s final moments are such a 180 degree turn out of nowhere, set up at no point during the film, it takes away from the ball-busting black comedy about politics it should be.
Our Brand is Crisis offers up this little ray of sunshine at the end to make us feel better about the end result … but it doesn’t feel organic. It feels added on, as if there’s a bleaker alternate ending that’ll wind up being the one we point out is the one that should’ve been on it.
Director: David Gordon Green Writer: Peter Straughan, suggested by a documentary by Rachel Boynton Notable Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.