Directed by David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) and written by Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Our Brand is Crisis is a fictionalised retelling of Rachel Boynton’s award-winning 2005 documentary of the same name. Like the original, the adaptation focuses on American political campaign strategists’ involvement in a presidential election in Bolivia.
Sandra Bullock plays Jane (also known as ‘Calamity’ Jane), another steely, strong-minded character that’s a familiar role (and maybe a little safe) for the actress. Jane has had a successful career but is now retired and living humbly, away from the cameras and hungry media who have publicly probed and dissected her all her life. She is approached by an American political consulting firm (The cast employed here includes Captain America’s Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd and Scoot McNairy) to help politician Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida become the next President of Bolivia. Castillo has held the position before but his oligarchist policies were unfavourable. With Castillo 28 points behind in the polls, Jane has her work cut out for her. Hesitant and indecisive about whether this is a race she wants to compete in, it doesn’t take long for Bullock to emerge into the feisty, resolute woman driven by killer instinct we know and love to see her play.
Jane has her match in Billy Bob Thornton’s character who is in equal parts charming, manipulative and threatening as the opposition’s political consultant, Pat Candy. The scenes in which Jane and Pat face off each other are boiling with tension and chemistry. Castillo’s main competition, Rivera (Louis Arcella), is very much of the ‘for the people’ camp, a quality which Castillo is sorely lacking in. De Almeida is highly credible as the egotistical, uncharismatic and short-tempered politician who Jane is desperately trying to have elected.
With the director’s background in both drama and comedy, it is unsurprising that the feature here takes elements of both genres. For its average feature-length running time (clocking in at a fair 100 minutes), Our Brand is Crisis is entertaining, funny and interesting. The film is confidently performed by its talented leads and supporting cast, and exemplifies the sort of leading, strong, multi-layered female characters we sorely need more of in film today. At the same time, one gets the sense that it is being careful not to ruffle up too many feathers in the current socio-political climate. One is reminded of George Clooney’s The Ides of March from four years ago (Clooney produced Our Brand is Crisis, being one of the first to get on board the remake, while he directed and produced Ides of March) and gets the sense that this film is taking a step back in the scrutinising of the corruption involved in political games. With its lack of challenging material, as well as Oscar contenders to compete with for box office receipts (and there’s always Star Wars), Our Brand of Crisis will likely go under the radar.