By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
After returning to his indie roots with Prince Avalanche, Joe, and Manglehorn, director David Gordon Green has made another Hollywood comedy. This time, however, Green tackles a political satire rather than some of his more juvenile wacky comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness). Loosely based on the 2005 documentary with the same title, Our Brand Is Crisis tells the story of how rival political strategy firms impacted the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Written by Peter Straughan, this fictionalized version of the true story has its witty and sharp moments, but the moral of the story gets watered down by the filmmakers’ desire to make the whole affair an entertaining romp.
Sandra Bullock stars as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a retired political consultant who gets hired to aide the Bolivian president’s campaign for re-election. President Pedro Gallo (Joaquin De Almeida), whose popularity is at an all time low, has no chance at winning at all. With their main opponent consulting with a rival firm headed by Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), Gallo’s campaign desperately hires Jane who has the know-how and resources to make a miracle happen. Jane’s inner demons and fiery history with Pat Candy threaten to submerge an already sinking ship.
Peter Straughan’s screenplay does deliver some sharply written satire, but also gets too caught up in delivering comedy of a more wacky variety. The material does mostly succeed in delivering laughs, but Green and Straughan have some trouble balancing it with the development of their protagonist’s morals. The more ugly, realistic truth feels tacked on and rushed at the end. Jane’s journey here does not feel completely natural, but more affected. Still, the film does entertain, and does offer some enlightening insight into the political campaign process. The end result is a bit messy, though.
To the film’s credit, it does feature performances that range from solid to excellent. Anthony Mackie, Joaquin De Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Louis Arcella all fall within the solid category. Billy Bob Thornton offers a familiar turn her as the slimy, conniving, and smug Pat Candy, but it is a role at which he excels. Relative unknown Reynaldo Pacheco delivers an exceptional performance as Eddie, a wide-eyed and optimistic campaign volunteer for Gallo. He is the proverbial innocent heart of the story. As for the jaded and more cynical sensibility, Sandra Bullock delivers a superb performance–one that may be worthy of recognition in the comedy acting category at the Golden Globes.
The movie, however, doesn’t quite make the cut. Because of the acting and brighter spots, I still moderately recommend Our Brand Is Crisis, the Hollywood adaptation. I have not actually seen the original documentary, and so I really don’t know how good it actually is or how well this film matches it. This fictionalized version does have its charms, but not enough to deserve full priced ticket revenues or film awards for writing or directing. Bullock and Pacheco, though, definitely deserve some praise.