By Michael Parnell
Movies are supposed to be about something. They should have a guiding focus, an idea about themselves.
Good movies can be described in a sentence. An example: The Godfather is a movie about family.
Bad movies forget this. They meander through their narrative not knowing who they are or where they are going. Our Brand Is Crisis is a good example of this.
The movie is about a fallen campaign consultant. “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) has hung up her spurs. She now makes pottery while living in the country. But Ben and Nell (Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd), two consultants working with a candidate in Bolivia, come knocking asking for her to come with them and help with a campaign.
Jane agrees and goes off to the high country of Bolivia. When she arrives she is hit by altitude sickness. Getting off the plane Jane does a pratfall. And with this we see that the director and screenwriter want Jane to be seen as a comical figure.
When she gathers herself and gets to know her client, she begins to dislike him (Joaquim de Almeida). He is a former president of the country but was voted out. There is something in him that she disdains. But she marshalls the energy to keep working.
Jane convinces her client that what the campaign must focus on is the fact that the country is in crisis and he is the only one with the experience to lead the nation out of it.
As the movie progresses we see Jane have a crisis of her own. She becomes enamored with a young volunteer and his brothers. There is the obligatory party scene where the group becomes bonded. There is a try at comedy again, which does not work well. But Jane is drawn in deeper and deeper with the country and its people.
The brightest part of the movie is Billy Bob Thornton’s Pat Candy. Candy is Jane’s opposite who works with the front runner’s campaign. He is reptilian and demonic at the same time. The best of the movie is when he is on the screen, which is not enough to save it.
In the storytelling there are so many aspects of character that get mentioned but are not developed or completely forgotten. One is that Jane has a drinking problem. Yet she drinks in the movie without any repercussions.
What plagues this movie is its lack of knowledge of what it wants to be. I cannot tell if this is to be a drama, a comedy, a tragedy or something else.
One of Candy’s best lines is, “If you battle with monsters long enough, you become one.” The intent of the line is to warn Jane if she stays at this she will become the very thing she hates. Yet it seems that has happened long before her trip to South America.
I liked the chemistry between Bullock and Thornton. When they are sparing with each other it is as good as Hepburn and Tracy. But the storytelling, the direction, the whole mess of the movie undercuts all the goodness of the two. This is a movie with grade A acting but a grade C story.
You should see this movie fade quickly at the theaters and make a quick appearance on video.
Our Brand Is Crisis
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Peter Straughan
With: Sandra Bullock (Jane Bodine), Billy Bob Thornton (Pat Candy), Anthony Mackie (Ben), Ann Dowd (Nell), Joauqim de Almedia (Castillo)