There’s a lot of potential in Our Brand is Crisis. For one, it’s directed by David Gordon Green who has earlier made terrific films such as Pineapple Express and Prince Avalanche. It’s also has a talented cast consisting Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton and Zoe Kazan, and the genre treads the waters of a political satire – arguably one of the most interesting genres the industry can offer. And yet despite its obvious positives the film is weighed down by its shortcomings to not warrant a recommendation.
The film is set in Bolivia, where a major political upheaval is about to take place in the form of new elections. Presidential candidate Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) is far behind in the polls, so an American firm is hired to spruce up his PR and campaign. Enter Jane (Bullock), a key strategist and a celebrity famous for handling politicians, flown in to help Pedro win the election. Her only problem is that her arch rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) is hired to help the opposition party win the election.
The film fortunately doesn’t take itself too seriously, rendering a breezy watch, at least in the first two-thirds. As Jane comes up with new ways to make Pedro look accessible and sympathetic to the public the story’s more satirical moments take center stage. A hilarious scene involves Jane celebrating like she won the super league when Pedro sheds some crocodile tears on a live television talk show. The bitchy and often loud back and forth between Jane and Candy becomes hilarious, even more so when she gets so caught up in one upping Candy that she starts takes the whole election personally.
Not all is hunky dory though, because the film begins to falter when it doesn’t offer sporadic fun. Since this is a film made by the makers of Argo, there’s an undercurrent of how America did well in helping a third world country pull its socks up. This should generally be forgivable since this is an American film to begin with but not at the cost of the aforementioned undercurrent getting in the way of the story at hand. We learn nothing about the political state of things in Bolivia, because the film spends its time following an American ‘finding herself’ in an exotic country.
The third act is when the film begins to fall completely flat as director Green totally abandons comedy in favour of drama. We’re presented the effects of the political wrangling and the PR laced, American-strategized lies and deceit that fuel the campaign. But this dramatic turn neither feels gripping or thought provoking but more of a predictable white man sermon without much nuance or detailing. It’s the very definition of what happens when a filmmaker who is more adept at stoner comedy tries to attempt something serious.
The high brow humor is itself passable but not very funny because it’s not Green’s comfort zone to begin with. Most of the good stuff, in fact, works because it’s taken straight from the 2005 documentary of the same name made on the same subject. Those looking for a better film are advised to buy or rent that film instead of risking some disappointment in this one.