TIFF 2015: Sandra Bullock & Billy Bob Thornton in 'Our Brand Is Crisis'
by Marco Cerritos
September 14, 2015
Caught in an ambiguous middle ground between a political drama and comedy, the new film Our Brand Is Crisis manages to balance itself adequately for most of its running time. Most of the film's charm and power however is due to actress Sandra Bullock, who is clearly gunning for her second Oscar. Bullock commands the lead role originally intended for male counterpart (and the film's producer) George Clooney as a tough-talking political strategist who has seen better days and is now staging an overdue comeback. Inspired by Rachel Boynton's documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis has all the story beats and rhythms of many underdog movies but the cast and direction are what set it apart from the clutter.
The fictional lead character of Jane Bodine plays to Bullock's strengths - loud, unapologetic and able to pull a last minute save when she has to. The character has been loosely based on James Carville, which is rather funny because Jane's opposition in the film is played with a Carville-twang and shaved head by Billy Bob Thronton. Astute movie fans will remember than Thornton also played the fictionalized Carville in Mike Nichols' Primary Colors (1998) which makes this film's comparison even weirder.
The thrust of Our Brand Is Crisis is built around an early 2000's Bolivian presidential election that pits Bullock's ragged underdog Pedro Castillo (played by Joaquim De Almeida) versus Thornton's first place candidate. Castillo is so far behind in the polls that it's a joke he's still running but backing longshots is Jane's specialty and she always works best when the gloves are off. The cutthroat political tactics of the real world have been watered down for this fictionalized version but it's still entertaining to see both sides waging constitutional war on each other.
The film's direction is by indie auteur David Gordon Green, a man who is no stranger to coloring outside the lines. His resume is filled with small character films (Undertow, Joe, Prince Avalanche) as well as big-budget Hollywood fare (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) so he is obviously comfortable on either end of the budgetary scale. Our Brand Is Crisis seems to fall somewhere in the middle, a movie that is funny and smart enough for adults but without the padded excess of a big Hollywood blockbuster.
The film is weakest in its finale with Peter Straughan's screenplay falling victim to Hollywood convenience and easy resolution. But for the most part, Our Brand Is Crisis plays it straight and entertains especially with Bullock in the driver's seat. It's a big, flashy role for her and immediate awards talk is definitely warranted. This is Bullock's best dramatic role ever and it deserves mainstream attention, even if she is slightly betrayed by the script's sometimes straightforward political approach.
Marco's TIFF 2015 Rating: B
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