Our Brand Is Crisis

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

David Gordon Green

Starring

Anthony Mackie Billy Bob Thornton Sandra Bullock

Anticipation.

David Gordon Green has been on a low-key roll of late.

Enjoyment.

Plays to the peanut gallery.

In Retrospect.

Too light, too silly.

Director David Gordon Green over-seasons this cynical political satire starring Sandra Bullock.

The misery-sodden entertainment of electioneering is a dismal metaphor for Machiavellian, self-serving corruption in all walks of life in David Gordon Green’s down-the-line political comedy, Our Brand Is Crisis. Even though it’s a film which professes to know all the angles, it’s maybe not delivering as radical a statement as its makers believe.

The suggestion that corrupt, patriarchal, business-minded politicians cannot be cleaved from their ingrained beliefs in the name of social democracy and compassion is cynicism 101. But this liberal trump card is laid over and over in a story whose guiding principle is that the process of ruling a nation is one that is naturally guided by contempt – justice and happiness are a mere myths, and the poor will always get the thin end of the wedge.

Sandra Bullock’s “Calamity” Jane Bodine is so-called because she has made a name for herself as a key propagator of dirty politics. She’s a slick fixer hired with the sole task of winning elections and leaving the moralistic bullshit (and blacklash) for someone else to deal with. That people might die at the hands of the tyrants she places into power is mere bagatelle. She has her designer shades to deflect the grim realities of what she’s doing.

We meet her after a period of personal healing, where she has left the rat race behind to make pottery bowls in the mountains and recover from a course of EST for mild psychosis. There’s an election in La Paz, and the American-endorsed stooge is massively trailing in the polls. That’s meaningless, though. She’s brought back into the fold with the irresistible chance to take down one of her key political rivals, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a balding bastard who knows her tactics and is the only one able to respond to them with any vim or vigour. The film is a series of skirmishes in which the pair mete out tit-for-tat violence with the hapless candidates (the “puppets”) becoming the actual human targets.

Bodine wins the trust of her employer Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) by reeling off a stream of inspirational quotes by Warren Beatty. It’s an interesting touch considering the film resembles Beatty’s own Bulworth from 1998, itself a liberal cine-brickbat (powered by hip-hop) aimed at the insidious corporate forces who have infiltrated the halls of power. Alas, there is no hip-hop in this film (or local equivalent).

Though Bullock is surrounded by a large ensemble, the side players, among them Anthony Mackie, Anne Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan, don’t get much of a look-in. It makes the film about her, and her feisty monologues and unpredictable behaviour make her a lovable if ethically tainted heroine. But this is not a film about political corruption, it’s a film charting Jane’s realisation that what she is doing has far-reaching negative ramifications, and whether revealing a newfound caring-sharing side would be too little, too late.

While she thinks she’s the puppeteer, there are others above her who are pulling those strings. Set against Green’s recent work, it’s certainly less interesting than his run of whimsical miniatures, Prince Avalanche, Joe and Manglehorn. There’s an anonymous, in-the-shadows feel to the way it’s been shot, and while there’s a certain poetry to that situation, it does mean that a certain profundity and artistry has been lost in the transition.

Published 21 Jan 2016

Anticipation.

David Gordon Green has been on a low-key roll of late.

Enjoyment.

Plays to the peanut gallery.

In Retrospect.

Too light, too silly.

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