Sandra Bullock has come a long way from being plucky Lenina Huxley in Demolition Man or Annie in Speed, alternating turns in some excellent dramatic films (Gravity, The Blind Side) while still finding time to shoot one of the better comedies of the last five years (The Heat).
Her latest vehicle, David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis, once again gives Bullock the opportunity to shine in a dramatic role that still mixes in plenty of comedy.
Down on her luck and washed out after a cutthroat career as a political consultant, “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Bullock) is approached by a former colleague (Ann Dowd) looking to jumpstart the flagging campaign of Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). In financial need, Jane decides to take the job, even though the candidacy is taking place in Bolivia.
It’s here that she encounters Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), another American consultant that she has lost to in the past, who is advising the current favourite. Down by more than 20 points when she arrives, Jane must now create a winning strategy to get Castillo back into the hearts and minds of the Bolivian people after years out of the game.
She proves quickly she’s willing to stoop to nearly any tactic, not just to win the election but also to defeat Pat, and now the only question is whether or not she has enough time to turn things around before the election arrives.
Bullock is a wise choice for a film that tries to appeal to multiple genres at once. Her portrayal of the cynical Calamity Jane is often played for laughs, but there’s always a grim weight hanging on her that manifests itself throughout. While her eventual character arc isn’t as believable as the moment-to-moment acting, Bullock does her best to bring Jane’s personality to life.
There is a number of quality supporting performances, but no one nails their role any better than Billy Bob Thornton. He’s instantly dislikeable as the smarmy Pat Candy, calmly trying to get under Jane’s skin any way he can. Even his physical appearance — bald and incredibly skinny — helps create a very strong feeling that you want to see this guy lose early, often and spectacularly.
While the film struggles to fully commit to one genre, it does have a number of quality scenes thanks to the interplay between the actors. Most of these check in on the comedic side, and Our Brand is Crisis manages to put together some good laughs for a dark comedy.
As noted, Our Brand is Crisis dips its toes in the water of multiple genres, but some of its beats are quite clumsy. The worst plotline is probably the idealistic staffer, Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), whose father was a supporter of Castillo. Now a young man, Eddie is the doe-eyed counterpoint to Jane’s cynicism, there to show her that winning an election is just the beginning.
It just comes across as hokey, and while Jane’s extended visit to Eddie’s home leads to a drinking scene that rates as one of the funnier in the film, it takes way too long to get there. It also plants the seeds for a completely unbelievable final act that seems to fly in the face of nearly everything we’ve watched leading up to that moment.
What it really comes down to is that the film tries to serve too many masters and never really pushes the envelope in any single direction. Our preference would’ve been to turn Bullock loose even more and play up the darker comedy angles and behind-the-scenes political machinations while leaving the moral compass for others.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Our Brand is Crisis contains exactly one bonus feature with Sandra Bullock speaking glowingly about the role and the opportunity it presented. At 10 minutes, it’s worth a watch.
With a bit more focus and a nastier edge, Our Brand is Crisis could’ve been a more memorable film. It’s still generally enjoyable, but you have to wade through some fluff to get to the good parts.