Our Brand is Crisis

 

starstarstar

 


A misjudged screenplay limits the appeal of this comedy despite the presence of a talented 

cast.


This satirical take on electioneering is centred on a presidential campaign in Bolivia and, fictional though it is, the movie even acknowledges in its credits the influence of a documentary film about the 2002 election there. However, its target is much wider in the sense that this film’s cynical portrayal of the way in which such events are managed is all too relevant to political campaigns all around the world and no less applicable to rival politicians than to would-be presidents.

Here we have Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a celebrated but troubled strategist, getting back into the fray when invited to go to Bolivia as advisor to former president Pedro Castillo who, seeking re-election, is trailing behind his opponents. Her incentive is that this will put her up against a man she longs to best, namely Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) who is acting for Castillo’s rival Victor Rivera, the man who, according to the polls, looks set to win.
 

Our Brand is Crisis

Election dysfunction: Scoot McNairy, Sandra Bullock and Joaquim de Almeida

 

This is promising stuff with locations such as Puerto Rico standing in effectively for Bolivia. The material apparently appealed to Sandra Bullock who, possibly with His Girl Friday in mind, suggested that the leading character, originally conceived as male, would work better if female. On paper that sounds fine, but the consequence is that Jane becomes the heroine as we support her attempts to beat Candy’s machinations and watch her regain her confidence when her skills start to reverse Castillo’s fortunes.

This response seems to have been foreseen by the director, David Gordon Green, who is quoted in the press notes with this remark about Bullock: “Whenever we see her on screen, we just believe in her and root for her.” That’s exactly what her presence encourages here, but the fact is that, until an unexpected and rather unpersuasive switch to seriousness in the film’s last stages, Jane is somebody as committed as Candy to using every trick in the book to get her candidate elected and it becomes increasingly clear that Castillo is not to be trusted. Consequently rooting for Jane is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing.

One silly scene of comic exaggeration apart, the film is never less than watchable, although the screenplay provides far too few opportunities for such admirable supporting players as Ann Dowd, Zoe Kazan and Scoot McNairy. But the fact is that the writing needed to be far more acerbic and to face up to Jane being, for the most part, no better than the rest. Peter Straughan, the writer here, fails to do that, but perhaps the only person capable of grasping this kind of nettle would have been I.A.L. Diamond writing for Billy Wilder.
 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, Reynaldo Pacheco.

 

Dir David Gordon Green, Pro Grant Heslov and George Clooney, Screenplay Peter Straughan, Ph Tim Orr, Pro Des Richard A. Wright, Ed Colin Patton, Music David Wingo, Costumes Jenny Eagan.

 

Warner Bros/Participant Media/Smokehouse Pictures-Warner Bros.
107 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 22 January 2016. Cert. 15.