Our Brand Is Crisis  sees a fictional Bolivian election heat up as a behind-the-scenes rivalry between campaign runners, not-so “Calamity” Jane Bordine (Sandra Bullock) and political puncher Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), employ American slander tactics in an all-out battle for the polls.
Quick and crude. Launching to a rock and roll soundtrack, the film gets off to a running start as it conveniently crams Jane’s campaign career and aggressive tactics into radio broadcasts and newspaper headlines. It’s a fruitlessly conscious effort—for Screenwriter Peter Straughan must drill this into our heads now because Bullock doesn’t come into character until a good 45 minutes in. However, in the case of Jane’s vulgar personality, neither Straughan nor Director David Gordon Green allows any breathing room whatsoever. When she moons Pat from the campaign bus, or drunkenly assaults his hotel window with a slingshot fashioned from her bed’s elastics, or even during her altitude-sickened stupor – it doesn’t come off as provocatively comedic as it does selfishly offensive because of the negligent and rushed introduction of her character or, for that matter, any hint of decency prior. The same lack of respect can be attributed to the bits of purposely-subtle lifelike humor, wherein the off-beat struggle to pronounce “hieroglyphics” or the breaking of a foldable chair when used as a sudo stand don’t linger long enough to allow audiences to separate conversation from comedy.
Who said what? Still, even when it comes to run-of-the-mill dialogue Straughan can’t be trusted. Being already difficult enough to determine the intention of the sentence, there were several instances where a piece of awkward wording is evident in both the actor’s hesitant execution and our immediate impulse to take a step back. “It’s Rivera’s slogan,” states one campaign exec regarding a slander poster against Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), Jane’s candidate, “it must be Rivera,” he miraculously concludes. Jane herself, the script’s oddities still flying under the radar of Bullock in the producer chair, is victim to this as well, stating in one scene: “We’re selling a brand… crisis is our brand,” which is in addition to her character’s seeming obsession with quotes ranging from Sun Tzu to a Nazi propagandist to Mohammed Ali. Instead of adding a sense of intelligence, as the scribe likely hoped, the quotes rather highlight the script’s mediocrity by comparison.
Confused crisis. The characters, main plot, and tone are all victims to the same lack of identity. Especially, Thornton was robbed of an otherwise meaty role - illustrated in multiple hints of affection amidst their heated rivalry, be it a mistaken kiss or a late night phone call for a night out. Yet, rather than explore how Jane and Pat’s love-hate relationship transcends into the political fate of a country, as it clearly suggests after the rushed results of the polls and the moments following the newly elected Bolivian president, Jane almost never even acknowledges the love dynamic. To make matters more confusing, it’s revealed off-hand that in one of their campaign conflicts that Jane essentially caused something terrible to Pat. Never does Jane attempt to make things right. Never does this affect Pat’s seeming affection with her. Never is this ever brought up again after the scene abruptly ends with someone profoundly stating, “That’s horrible.” It is horrible. It’s also horrible that the film suddenly drops its aforementioned rock and roll tone to become a Latin American activist in the final 45 minutes, likely in an attempt to cram in some honorable meaning before audiences begin to dissect just how appalling the film is to its characters, sense of direction, and, most importantly, those who spent their hard-earned money on this onscreen crisis.
There’s a particular standout moment that you’ve likely seen if you’ve watched any trailers for the film. A donkey walks out of a studio and into the hood of a speeding car. Jane observes: “It’s like he killed himself rather than be in one of our commercials.” But I think we all know the animal’s true reasoning.