Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #46: Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

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The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Gravity was Sandra Bullock’s biggest success to date, skyrocketing at the box office and earning Sandra a second Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She had just won the Oscar for The Blind Side four years prior, and she had since enjoyed success in a new blockbuster comedy, The Heat. So what in the world would she do next?

First, she played it safe by offering her voice talent to a film that was going to make a bazillion dollars regardless of her participation — Minions, a prequel to the Despicable Me series, that debuted in theaters in the summer of 2015. Sandra played the villainous Scarlett Overkill, her name plastered on all the trailers leading up to the film’s release. The movie earned nearly 1.2 billion dollars at the worldwide box office and provided another huge success to be added to the Sandra Bullock canon. But, about two years now since Gravity’s release, Sandra had one more surprise for audiences up her sleeve. She had a new live-action feature, her first since Gravity, that in no way was an easy sell: a political comedy set in Bulgaria released not only when our nation’s presidential campaigns were up and running but also during Halloween weekend, of all weekends. This was… Our Brand is Crisis.

Based on a highly regarded documentary released in 2005, Our Brand is Crisis floated around Hollywood for years. At one point George Clooney was going to star in the project, but then his participation fell through, and the project stalled for awhile. After Gravity, Sandra was looking for something that excited her, something challenging, and after reading a lot of screenplays with female protagonists, she and her team started digging through unproduced screenplays with male protagonists. Who’s to say the gender couldn’t be flipped, after all? When she came upon Our Brand is Crisis, she connected to the main character and the story-line, and apparently it didn’t take too much effort to change the protagonist to a female.

In the film she plays Jane, a political consultant who’s been out of the arena for awhile, enjoying a quiet life when she’s summoned to return to politics by helping re-elect a controversial president in Bolivia. She reluctantly takes the job, only to learn that her rival consultant of old, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton, in a delightfully malicious performance) has joined the other team. The political candidates fight head to head while Jane tries to find herself again, particularly in what she truly wants to be fighting for in the years to come. The film blends comedy with drama and features a stellar supporting cast including Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, and Reynaldo Pacheco, in a terrific turn.

Our Brand is Crisis came and went like no other Sandra Bullock movie in recent history. It wasn’t a massive flop, given that it only cost about 28 million to make, but it still only made 7 million at the nationwide box office, about the amount Gravity made in a few hours on its opening day. This film’s downfall was a matter of timing, to be sure, and also the many mixed reviews, which rightfully point out that the story itself isn’t as compelling as it could be, the mix of comedy and drama is never quite successful, and the film never comes together as it should. It takes a while to get going, the ending feels rushed, and there’s never the sense that anything truly big is at stake in the story.

Having said that, I still believe Our Brand is Crisis is an underrated film, one that probably would have fared better earlier in the year, far away from the Halloween holiday, as well as the political season that was free for everyone to watch from home every day, so why go pay money to see a political film in the theater? But although the film is good, not great, and certainly worthy of many of its criticisms, the one element of the film that saddens me when I think back on this movie is the widespread ignoring Sandra’s rich and commanding performance, easily one of the three best she’s ever delivered in her long career. Although the movie isn’t one of her greatest, her performance I would rank right alongside The Blind Side and Gravity.

One thing that obviously rubbed off on her after making Gravity was taking more risks as a performer and allowing herself to inhabit characters that are deeply flawed, not always likable, filled with rage and anger. Jane is a lost soul throughout a lot of the movie, apathetic toward the political system in the film’s first third, committed to her job and her goal in the second third, and finding heartbreak and new roads to walk in the final third. She has great moments in the film where she simply sits and reflects, and also terrific moments where she commands a room like she rarely has in a movie before or since.

Sandra often joked about her 2009 flop All About Steve that one day it would be considered a cult classic, that audiences just weren’t ready for it that year and that maybe a few years later it would be better regarded. I’m almost one-hundred-percent certain that All About Steve will never be liked, by pretty much anyone, this year, or next year, or in another two decades, because it truly is an awful film. But a mammoth flop like Our Brand is Crisis, which, yes, made less money than All About Steve, is too solid of a film, with way too good of a Sandra performance, to be ignored forever, and here’s hoping, maybe not anytime soon, but down the road, that more reverence will be given to the film and that more people will get a chance to see it.

Best Scene: Sandra yells at her political candidate in an auditorium about him being nothing more than a puppet.

Best Line: “That’s the world, that’s politics. That’s how it works. It starts out with big promises and ends up with jackshit happening. But like the man said: ‘If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.’”

Fun Facts

Sandra’s only live-action film between 2013’s Gravity and 2018’s Ocean’s 8.

At the beginning of the film, a still black-and-white image from Sandra’s 1995 thriller The Net can be seen.

On the final day of shooting, Sandra had an ice cream truck brought to the set.

Her previous live-action film Gravity made more than 700 million at the worldwide box office. Our Brand is Crisis made 7 million total.

The only acting nomination received for the film was for Reynaldo Pacheco for Best Supporting Actor, from the Imagen Foundation Awards.

The first film Sandra and George Clooney co-produced together.

The first film Sandra produced (technically, executive produced) since All About Steve. I’ll say it before, and I’ll say it again: with a few exceptions, any project Sandra produces herself is typically doomed at the box office.

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