Our Brand Is Crisis **

Strained political drama wants to be meaningful but fails to get us to give a damn.

Is it worth $10? No

“Our Brand Is Crisis” is a movie in crisis, searching for an identity that’s nowhere to be found, propelled by an ill-conceived story that never has a chance. You’re supposed to leave the theater in thought and feeling impassioned – you’ll actually leave feeling unengaged and indifferent.

We first meet legendary political strategist-turned-burnout Jane (Sandra Bullock) in the snowy mountains of North America. She’s visited by Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd), who work for the campaign of Bolivian presidential nominee Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). Ben and Nell recruit Jane to work for the campaign, citing that her longtime rival Pat (Billy Bob Thornton) is working for the opposition. Jane demurs, but accepts the job, because if she didn’t there wouldn’t be a movie. 

Once in La Paz, Bolivia, Jane doesn’t want to be there. Why she accepted the job remains a mystery. Castillo is well behind in the polls, meaning a total strategy makeover is needed. The country is in crisis, Jane says, and it needs someone with Castillo’s experience to get out of it. We learn this approach during two rousing speeches she gives to the campaign team, which are out of character for Jane given that she barely talks to anyone the first few days she’s there.

In the film’s few bright spots, political gamesmanship between Jane and Pat plays out in amusing ways, but they’re lighthearted moments in a movie that takes itself seriously. When it does deliberately try to have fun, such as during a showdown on campaign buses on winding mountain roads, it feels forced.

Director David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche”), working from a script by Peter Straughn, clearly wants to say something meaningful about politics, elections, and maintaining an ethical core in a profession that doesn’t allow for one. But he never finds anything to say. Instead we have a few high-minded platitudes about doing one’s job and not asking questions, and the common notion that campaigns shouldn’t resort to negative advertising against opponents.

All of this also begs the question of why the story takes place in Bolivia. It’s a country of relatively little concern to most North Americans, and there’s nothing unique about its location or politics that makes the story’s circumstances inherently interesting. Given that mainstream American audiences aren’t typically drawn to political dramas from Bolivia, I’d say the box office prospects here are minimal, even with Bullock in the lead.

Setting the film in Bolivia becomes all the more surprising upon learning the story is partially based on a 2005 documentary of the same name made by Rachel Boynton. The doc was about United States political marketing campaigns, their tactics, and the long-term consequences of said tactics. I haven’t seen it, but I’m willing to guess Bolivia isn’t mentioned once.

Sometimes movies are head-scratchers. One imagines the suits at Warner Bros. saw Bullock in the lead and a strong supporting cast and thought they had a movie they could sell. A close look at the script would’ve suggested otherwise.

Did you know?
George Clooney, who is a producer of the film, was originally set to play Thornton’s role, but had to drop out.

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