Our Brand Is Crisis
Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida
Most projects that are gender flipped from male to female roles tend to work out pretty well. “Gravity” and “Flightplan” are just a few, but “Our Brand is Crisis” (produced by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) is the first that strikes me as too focused on the gender swapping issue. The script endured a few changes after recasting Thornton and Bullock, but it caters too often to the “Miss Congeniality” stars’ physical comedian skills rather than her strengths as a dramatic actor. David Gordon Green (“Manglehorn”, “Joe”) is consistently unpredictable as a director. He and the writers can’t seem to find this political films heart because they are too busy trying to sell Bullock to an audience that wouldn’t buy a ticket to this in the first place.
Calamity Jane (Bullock) they call her, and for good reason. Formerly one of the best political campaign managers in the US, Jane is about to come out of retirement to help former Bolivian President Castillo (Almeida) once again ascend to the nation’s highest office. She only has nine days to take her candidate from near the bottom of current polls to victory. Her secret weapon isn’t strategy or even ruthlessness, it’s the chance to beat Pat Candy (Thornton), to whom she has lost other campaigns. Jane’s methods are constantly called into question, but when she isn’t eating a bag of chips, hyperventilating, or falling off collapsible chairs, it’s clear she knows how to sell a candidate.
The indecision for making this a drama or a comedy is really where it breaks apart.
Oscar winner Bullock has, over the years, tackled an array of genres, showcasing her range, she can do anything. Her charm typically can elevate even the worst of films, yet here is a character that not only isn’t right for her but tries to pull various attributes from previous characters she has played and mold them into something that doesn’t work. In some scenes she is hard, steadfast and bold like her character in “Crash” or “Murder By Numbers” which would have been an asset if “Our Brand in Crisis” were more like “Ides of March”. In a scene where two political buses are racing around mountainous cliffs, we see Bullock from “The Heat” or “Forces of Nature”, mooning the competition. Other scenes having Bullock channeling her award winning “Blind Side” performance. Green and his leading lady don’t seem to understand who Jane is exactly.
The handful of scenes between Jane and Candy are the only strong moments. Their rivalry is given the same importance in the script as the political message. Yet each scene is played with Thornton talking as Bullocks listens while staring off into the distance. Supporting actors like Mackie, Dowd, and Zoe Kazan are one sided and only exist to move the story while Bullock does comedy routines for laughs. The indecision for making this a drama or a comedy is really where it breaks apart. With politics infecting every corner of current news, the last thing viewers want at the moment is a film further illustrating the negative side of politics and government.
By the time Bullock figures out whether to play this funny or serious, the film has loses its momentum.