A Bolivian presidential candidate failing badly in the polls enlists the firepower of an elite American management team, led by the deeply damaged but still brilliant strategist "Calamity" Jane Bodine (Bullock). In self-imposed retirement following a scandal that earned her nickname and rocked her to her core, Jane is coaxed back into the game for the chance to beat her professional nemesis, the loathsome Pat Candy (Thornton), now coaching the opposition.
But as Candy zeroes in on every vulnerability – both on and off the campaign trail – Jane is plunged into a personal crisis as intense as the one her team exploits nationally to boost their numbers. Dramatic, rapid-fire and laced with satire, "Our Brand is Crisis" reveals the cynical machinations and private battles of world-class political consultants for whom nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters.
One of my biggest passions – aside from movies, of course – is the world of politics, so even though I didn't get a chance to see 'Our Brand is Crisis' during its short theatrical run, I was really looking forward to watching it on home video. The story here is based on true events, and if the title sounds familiar, it's because there's already been a documentary under the same name (released back in 2005 and available on DVD, but not Blu-ray) that covers the real story of what's fictionalized here.
The movie stars Sandra Bullock (in a role that was originally supposed to be male and played by George Clooney – he stepped aside, but still stayed on as a producer) as political strategist Jane Bodine, who is living in semi-retirement as this story opens. She gets paid a visit by a pair of fellow strategists (played by Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd), who want Jane to get back in the game and help a fledgling candidate in the upcoming Bolivian presidential election win. Jane is hesitant until she learns that former political rival Pat Candy (a smarmy Billy Bob Thornton) is helping the opposition with their campaign. So it's off to Bolivia to see if she will finally be able to beat Candy in this political showdown.
Jane's biggest problem, however, isn't Candy – it's her candidate, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who has held the presidency before, but whom most of the public fears. Jane makes the decision that instead of trying to get voters to like him, she'll instead get them to fear that if he's not elected, the country will fall apart. Sound familiar? Yes, one of the big themes of 'Our Brand is Crisis' is to get viewers to think about and question what is being presented to us in political campaigns.
But the problem with the movie isn't so much the ideas it's trying to tackle, as the ways in which it tackles them. It seems I've been reviewing a lot of titles recently where the filmmakers can't seem to decide if they want their movie to be a comedy or a drama, and it happens again here, as the first half of 'This Brand in Crisis' wants to be a dark comedy, while the second half wants to get serious and conclude with dramatic overtones. The featurette on this release indicates that the mix of comedy and drama is intentional, but that doesn't mean it works.
Another problem I had was with the lead character herself. It's clear very early on that Jane cares much more about beating Candy at his own game and winning the election for Castillo than she does about the people of Bolivia. There's nothing wrong with having an amoral character as your lead or even trying to redeem her at the conclusion – which this movie does. The problem is that Jane's redemption comes at a point where it's too late to change the fates of anyone else involved in the film. So her arc seems kind of pointless here, when there's nothing she can do now but tuck tail and hope 'next time' is better.
'Our Brand is Crisis' isn't a bad movie, nor is it really a good one, either. It's pretty middling overall, and it really has nothing new to say about politics or the manipulation of elections that the vast majority of viewers don't already know going into the film. With that in mind, it's also not a poorly acted or poorly directed (by David Gordon Green) movie either, which means it still makes for a nice rental...it's just not something you're likely going to want to sit through more than once.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Our Brand is Crisis' launches its campaign on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly keepcase, which houses the 50GB disc along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with a promo ad for Warner Bros. movies on Digital HD, as well as trailers for Black Mass and The 33. The main menu has the standard Warners' design, with a still of the box cover image and menu selections across the bottom of the screen. The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Our Brand is Crisis' was shot on 35mm film using the Panavision Millennium XL2 model and is presented here in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As film-to-HD transfers of recent movies go, this one is good, but not great. Grain is evident throughout, although pushed to the background. However, it's much more obvious in the film's indoor and darker scenes, which leads to some unintentional inconsistency. For the most part, details are good, although – again – some of the darker sequences look a little flat.
The movie looks best on HD when it features exterior scenes, as the various colors of the lush landscape (many scenes were actually shot in Bolivia, but some were also filmed in Puerto Rico) provide the image with some much-needed 'pop'. Skin tones are primarily 'cool' throughout, but consistent, while black levels are decent, but not exactly inky deep. In terms of any serious glitches, like frequent aliasing, banding, or excessive noise, this release is free from any of those types of issues.
The primary audio track here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one that proves to be nicely rendered. While primarily a talking-heads type of picture, the film does get out and about in various scenes, including a number of crowd protest sequences where the soundtrack offers some slight immersion through use of the surrounds. For the most part, though, the rear speakers are used for ambient noises, and the track doesn't offer much in terms of either directionality or LFE use. Still, dialogue is crisp, clear, and free of any obvious glitches. Everything is mixed nicely here too, so the spoken word never gets drown out by the soundtrack or other events happening on screen. While this isn't the kind of movie that's going to show off one's home theater set-up, it's well done and free from any aural problems.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital English Descriptive track is available, as are 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French, Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese.
The only bonus feature on this release is also exclusive to this Blu-ray and detailed in the 'HD Bonus Content' section below.
I consider myself a pretty big political junkie, and even I wasn't all that impressed with 'Our Brand is Crisis', which can't ever seem to really decide if it wants to be a cynical comedy or a cynical drama. The performances, however, are just fine and there are a number of enjoyable scenes...I just don't think the good parts add up to much of a satisfying movie. Still, in this presidential election year, 'Our Brand is Crisis' might be worth at least one viewing, particularly if you're a fan of either Sandra Bullock or Billy Bob Thornton. Rent it.