Blu-ray Review: Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

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Director David Gordon Green has amassed a fascinatingly diverse filmography. From his bracingly original debut George Washington (2000) to mainstream comedies like Pineapple Express (2008) to his gritty Nicolas Cage showcase Joe (2013), Green has proven to be a bold talent. Now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Our Brand Is Crisis was one of two Green-directed films released in 2015. The other was Manglehorn, a quirky character study starring Al Pacino. That one was seen by even less people than the bomb Crisis, but it's easily the more interesting of the two. Our Brand Is Crisis, despite an exceptional performance by Sandra Bullock, is essentially a 107-minute reminder that political campaigns are full of empty promises. Is this really revelatory? 

our brand is crisis 2 (380x205).jpg Bullock plays campaign strategist "Calamity Jane" Bodine. She's a ferocious competitor, unafraid to sling mud, whose career has been hampered by her struggle with alcoholism. Jane is tasked with rescuing the failing campaign of an unpopular Bolivian presidential candidate, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida, Ramon Salazar on season three of 24). The opposing candidate's campaign is run by Jane's nemesis (and possible long-in-the-past romantic interest, or maybe just a one night stand even) Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Along with Castillo's other campaign management team—Nell (Ann Dowd), Ben (Anthony Mackie), and LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan)—Jane must manufacture a crisis that scares Bolivian voters into backing an unlikable candidate. The whole thing was inspired by the real-life 2002 Bolivian Presidential election (the subject of a 2005 documentary of the same name, directed by Rachel Boynton).

Green, working from a screenplay by Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Soldier Spy), keeps things relatively lively considering that backstage political campaign machinations are not necessarily easy to dramatize. Attempts to inject a bit of a outlandish humor (including the death of an alpaca, prominently featured in the film's trailer) mostly fall flat. Warner's marketing campaign touts Crisis as a "head-to-head" showdown between Bullock and Thornton, but the latter's screen time is relatively limited. As the smear campaign against Candy's alleged Nazi-sympathizing candidate intensifies, sparks never really fly between the opposing strategists. Bullock, gaunt and blonde, obviously invested considerably in crafting a fully-developed, flesh-and-blood character. But ultimately Our Brand Is Crisis is a lot less fun in terms of political satire than, say, Wag the Dog
our brand is crisis BD (295x380).jpg Warner's Blu-ray looks terrific, with Tim Orr's 35mm cinematography benefiting from a beautiful 1080p transfer. No less impressive is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that makes the most of Crisis' more boisterous moments (i.e. crowds protesting Castillo). David Wingo scored the film and his music, along with occasional rock tunes like Ten Years After's classic "I'd Love to Change the World," is another sonic highlight. The big disappointment? Only one supplement has been included: "Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other." This is a ten-minute puff piece that plays up Bullock's performance as the most significant aspect of the film (which it pretty much is).

Audiences stayed away from Our Brand Is Crisis in theaters last fall. There's enough general cynicism surrounding politicians and the distortions of truth that often dominate elections, moviegoers maybe aren't all that interested in seeing it depicted onscreen. At least not as fictionalized entertainment when there's an acclaimed documentary available on the same subject. That said, Sandra Bullock turns in a raw-nerve performance that her fans definitely won't want to miss.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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