Review: 'Our Brand Is Crisis' Shows Sandra Bullock Saving a Political Satire

Rachel Smith ’16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Ann Dowd, Sandra Bullock and Anthony Mackie in Our Brand Is Crisis. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
The big story around Our Brand Is Crisis is Sandra Bullock taking the role from George Clooney and thank the Hollywood gods that she did. Bullock is a powerhouse as political strategist Jane Bodine, affectionately nicknamed “Calamity Jane” for her many public blunders. Like many a political narrative, she is out of the game at first but with some coaxing from the staff, she’s convinced out of her cabin in the woods and back on the campaign trail.
These coworkers are Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd). Mackie is under utilized in the film and his character’s friendship with Jane is underdeveloped. They are joined by marketing manager and walking joke Buckley (Scoot McNairy). The team is okay. They play reasonably well off each other in the short interactions they have. By the end they don’t feel like friends, just people who worked in a room together. Their relationship needed more for the audience to be invested.
Billy Bob Thornton and Sandra Bullock in Our Brand Is Crisis. Photo Credits: Warner Bros.
The relationship that is very well understood is that between Jane and Pat Candy, played by Billy Bob Thornton. For such a strong female lead, one would think the writers wouldn’t reduce the supporting cast to stereotyping. Pat Candy is a sexist, condescending and unrelenting ass. Jane outsmarts him enough times to give her the credit she deserves but Thornton is above this character. Not to say he didn’t play it well, he’s just worth more than what the writers give him.
He’s a smart, career driven guy who thinks he’s the best at what he does but instead of just putting them at mental odds, Candy demeans Jane for an hour and a half. This is supposed to pass as sexual tension. Thankfully they never sleep together or the whole film would have been for nothing. Though he’s unlikable at best, their relationship does spark the most drama and supplies the biggest comedic moments.
Jane’s sidekick and secret weapon, LeBlanc, undercut the sexist undertones of the film. Zoe Kazan plays LeBlanc who is flown in by Jane to dig up any dirt she can on all candidates. Having a woman lead with an equally smart woman sidekick works wonders for the merit of the film. She also translates for the group as they try to understand Bolivian media, newspapers and citizens. The use of Spanish throughout the film gives it an authenticity that many political satires lack. At the same time, they do exploit the white knight coming in to save the underprivileged South Americans. It’s not overly exploited but certain moments scream hierarchy.
Sandra Bullock in Our Brand Is Crisis. Photo Credits: Warner Bros.
Bullock introduces “crisis” as their strategy to the hardened candidate, Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). She outright says, “Our brand is crisis” which fells a little too on the nose but they do sell it well. Castillo is a classic political candidate, rough around the edges and too rich to be likeable. He never becomes likeable. There are small moments that are presented like a turning point for Castillo but there’s just not enough there to believe. The audience won’t trust him and the end of the film feels a bit obvious. The pay off doesn’t come from him it comes from Jane’s character arc.
She fights through hell and back to get where she is. They write her in a way that isn’t conventional for a male lead or female lead. That is what makes this film worth watching, not so much in the narrative but in the character development and Bullock’s expert performance. She sells Jane Bodine in a way that makes the audience root for her even though she’s done terrible things. The ending brings her full circle and though the political outcome may be unsatisfying, her triumph certainly is.
Overall Grade: C+
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