Director David Gordon Green has had, let’s say, an interesting career path. He built a name for himself with quiet indie films like All the Real Girls (2003), drastically departed and cashed in with the stoner comedy Pineapple Express (2008) and stayed on that path only to end up with a couple of flops in Your Highness (2011) and The Sitter (2011). Since then, he’s been trying to regain his cache, working on smaller, more respectable — and little watched — projects. His latest, Our Brand is Crisis, is a venture into a more important, message-driven type of filmmaking, one that wants to shed light on the superficiality of politicians and the modern democratic process.
This isn’t a strategy I necessarily disagree with, nor do I think it’s something that doesn’t need to be discussed — it just doesn’t quite coalesce within the confines of Green’s film. Something doesn’t quite connect for me and Green’s message. I think it has to do with Brand simply never going far enough. It isn’t quite angry enough, jaded enough or cynical enough about the majorly fractured, damaged nature of political campaigns and politicians. Yes, I agree with the film’s sentiment, but it doesn’t get me riled up, doesn’t make me want to do anything — and I find it unlikely that it’d do much to get anyone else angry either. And truly, action is the point of a film like this; it helps shed light on a subject (even humorously) and then create awareness. Here, the general sense of the film is one of mediocrity. Yes, it’s solidly entertaining and held my attention, but that’s all the film was able to accomplish. When your entire purpose is to wail and gnash, whimpering just isn’t enough.
Taking Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name, this version of Our Brand is Crisis loosely takes the events of that film — which followed American political advisers affecting a Bolivian presidential election — and creates a narrative for it. Here, Sandra Bullock plays Jane, a former hotshot adviser who, after a lifetime of questionable decisions, booze and professional burnout, has removed herself to a log cabin to work on pottery. But she’s pulled back into the profession she swore off to help the crippled campaign of a Bolivian presidential candidate (Joaquim de Almeida, Fast Five) — not out of any sense of responsibility, but for one last chance at beating her archrival, Pat (Billy Bob Thornton as a James Carville proxy), the campaign manager of the election’s front-runner.
The film revolves around this personal battle, illuminating the way in which elections, in many ways, are little more than games, less concerned with actual policy and tied instead to packaging a candidate as a product. Again, this is solidly watchable, the cast is good, the plot’s occasionally fun and clever, but as a whole, it just doesn’t have the weight or insight it needs. It’s full of good ideas, but they’re handled in a predictable fashion (it’s obvious from the onset who’s going to win and who’s going to have their awakening), one that’s also naive and unrealistic. The whole thing is just too flaccid to leave any real impression. Rated R for language including some sexual references.