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Our Brand Is Crisis
On the surface, the pedigree in front of and behind the camera for Our Brand is Crisis was intriguing; Oscar winner lead, Oscar nominated co-star, in demand supporting characters and director, political comedy. It then underperformed critically and popularly, so the question may become what were the reasons for its failure, right? Well, allow me to pop open the hood and find out.
Peter Straughan (Frank) wrote a screenplay ‘suggested by' a 2005 documentary of the same name, which David Gordon Green (Eastbound & Down) directed. Jane (Sandra Bullock, The Heat) has been a consultant on several failed Presidential campaigns, and the experience has left her personally shattered to a degree, and extremely reclusive. She is given an offer to run another campaign by her former associate Nell (Anne Dowd, The Drop) to run a campaign, but it's in Bolivia. They kicker is that the lead candidate is running a campaign orchestrated by Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton, The Judge). Jane jumps at the chance to try and beat Pat for the first time, one last time.
The first thing you'll notice about Bullock's character is that it's a much more reserved one than she's used to playing. She's done the clumsy and/or mousy characters before, and even done the straight man in other films well, but something in the way this character is established provides a bit more resonance and believability to where we first see Jane. She's muted, but she's also a tempest in a teapot, or so the proverbial stories say, as Nell's co-worker Ben (Anthony Mackie, Ant-Man) is exposed to as they drive to Jane's cabin in the middle of winter.
It's when they get down to Bolivia and Jane runs into Pat while shaping her candidate's (Joaquim de Almeida, Desperado) is where things get confusing for the movie. Our Brand is Crisis takes its cues from its title in its storytelling. It wants to jam Jane's character redemption, a political satire and a road movie into 100 minutes, but in the process it loses whatever identity it had in what the story was supposed to be. At the end of the movie, it wants to serve as some sort of cry to return to politics that wasn't so cynical and meant something in the past, but it's cry is hollow, almost funny. It shrugs its shoulders and moves along.
Much like the branches of a tree going down a river, the actors are swept up in its current. Bullock gets back into the groove of ruthless campaign manager early on (the nickname given to her character is ‘Calamity Jane'), but in terms of character play it doesn't have any real moments of introspection by her. And while those around her watch her work in amazement, she disassociates herself from the viewer, and when she comes back to where her character is supposed to be (valuing the people rather than the campaign or something like that), she doesn't really gain much attention back by the end of the film.
The ensemble isn't bad, Thornton plays a character that only Thornton could uniquely play it seems, Dowd and Mackie are fine, as is Zoe Kazan, who plays Jane's ruthless campaign ad representative. There are moments of humanity that Almeida handles nicely, just as the ones that show him emoting for effect which are funny. They carry the work in front of them, knowing that they are the background to the film.
I would presume that people did not see Our Brand is Crisis because of the change in character that Bullock provided. I think perhaps more accurately is that because the film centered around a couple of professional campaign managers who, by nature, would be monsters in real life, that is probably why people stayed away. The fact that the film didn't seem to know what to do with Bullock didn't help matters.
Our Brand in Crisis uses the AVC encode to present this 1.85:1 widescreen presentation and the overall results aren't too shabby. The film was shot in Bolivia and during a moment when the two campaign buses are on a sketchy mountain road in the jungle, the greens are pretty vivid, and in the early moments, the whites of the snow look good and are not hot at all. There is a pretty good color palette in the film that looks good with little saturation qualms, and image detail isn't bad either. Warner does right by the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track also gets a bit of work in. Whether it is a car crash or the aforementioned bus chase, there is a good amount of low end fidelity in the more dynamic moments. In louder moments in a bar it even sounds good. Quieter moments of dialogue or conversation between Jane and Pat are replicated well with little drop offs, and for a comedy there are some sonic surprises there.
Aside from a digital copy, the only thing here is something called "A Role Like No Other" (11:00), where the cast and crew discuss Bullock as an actress as well as the character she portrays, and Bullock discusses the appeal of the material and the character, and a little glimpse into her work process.
It was nice to see Bullock do a bit of a change of pace in Our Brand is Crisis but ultimately the film does little more than that, and is going to be remembered more for her performance (which isn't bad, actually) than anything else in the film. Technically, it looks and sounds fine, but could have used a little bit of work on the bonus material. But it is worth checking out briefly, if only to be disappointed.