Our Brand Is Crisis: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton come up short at the polls

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2 out of 4 stars

Welcome back to earth, Sandra Bullock.

The last time we saw Bullock, she gave an out-of-this-world performance – literally and figuratively – as a medical engineer lost in space in 2013’s Gravity, which skyrocketed to more than $723 million at the worldwide box office and earned her an Oscar nomination for best lead actress.

In her latest work, Our Brand Is Crisis, she’s light years away from her previous role, going from the great beyond to, of all places, Bolivia.

Goodbye, George Clooney, who was her co-star in Gravity, and hello, Billy Bob Thornton, with whom she shares the screen as she tries to help a downtrodden candidate overcome long odds to become Bolivia’s president.

Nevermind the movie was primarily shot in New Orleans, not Bolivia.

Nevermind it’s about the democratic process in a country that many Americans can’t find on a map.

Nevermind it’s about an election that happened before quarterback Kyle Boller took his first snap for the Ravens?

Nevermind it’s a film about the use of U.S. marketing strategies to swing the 2002 Bolivian Presidential Election based off Rachel Boynton’s documentary of the same name.

But keep in mind that no one’s perfect, not even Bullock, despite her last four films – Gravity, The Heat, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Blind Side – having collectively grossed more than $1.3 billion at the box office.

But Bullock’s decision to play Jane Bodine, a disgraced and retired political consultant, when she is coming off an Oscar nomination is as puzzling as her choice to play Mary Horowitz in All About Steve in 2009.

Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton back competing candidates in Our Brand Is Crisis. (Warner Bros.)
Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton back competing candidates in Our Brand Is Crisis. (Warner Bros.)

Bullock’s no stranger to carrying a film – her performance as Leigh Anne Touhy in 2009’s The Blind Side earned her the Oscar for best lead actress – but Our Brand Is Crisis has too much dead weight for her to carry.

For starters, the movie’s premise isn’t strong enough. Do moviegoers want to spend 108 minutes watching a film based on Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s rally to defeat Evo Morales 13 years ago? Heck, four years later, Morales, a staunch critic of the U.S., became president, a position he still holds today.

Bodine is hired to help former President Pedro Castillo, who is floundering in the polls, regain office. Castillo, played by Joaquim de Almeida – who isn’t cast as a drug lord for the first time in recent memory – isn’t really likable, but neither is front-running Socialist Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella), who’s portrayed as the man of people.

“Politics have always been a comedy/tragedy,” Bullock told reporters at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles on Monday night. ”I think now the curtain has just been pulled back and everyone gets to see it. It has always been the same. You can’t write stories like this based on pure fiction. This is based on absolute reality.”

That’s true, but the biggest battle in Our Brand Is Crisis isn’t really between Pedro and Victor. It’s between Jane and her longtime nemesis, Pat Candy, played by fellow Oscar winner Thornton. Candy has been retained by Victor, which is the only reason why Bodine returns to the political ring. She’s simply tired of hearing that how one of Candy’s candidates has never lost an election to one backed by Bodine.

Director David Gordon Green’s biggest problem in Crisis is he has too many moving parts, which causes confusion. He needed to spend more time on Bullock and Billy Bob and less time on Bolivians, though he deserves credit for filming New Orleans so well it passes for one of South America’s poorest countries.

Sandra Bullock plays political strategist Jane Bodine in Our Brand Is Crisis, where she helps a struggling candidate win the Bolivian presidency. (Warner Bros.)
Sandra Bullock plays political strategist Jane Bodine in Our Brand Is Crisis, where she helps a struggling candidate win the Bolivian presidency. (Warner Bros.)

Thornton and Bullock’s chemistry is good, but far from great. They exchange witty jabs along the campaign trail that make for some satirical fun and humorous spots. But more is expected from Oscar winners.

Perhaps Clooney, who originally had been slated to play Bullock’s character, would have been better starring in the film than producing it.

Thornton, using his Southern drawl much like he did in a similar role in 1998’s Primary Colors, comes across as a savvy salesman pitching Victor as the country’s next leader. Bullock’s Bodine, however, is ruthless, which makes her hard to like. She doesn’t really know her candidate, could care less about speaking Spanish and is so hell-bent on beating Candy that the audience doesn’t realize Bodine’s good qualities until it’s too late.

By then, this Crisis is over.

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