Sandra Bullock occupies a very particular space in my brain when it comes to how I perceive her in regards to whether she enhances or detracts from any particular film she stars in. And that space is: a surprising amount of ambivalence. She occupies a similar role to that of Christian Bale in that I don’t think she’s a bad actress, and I have liked roles and projects that she has been a part of, but I don’t necessarily feel that those projects have been in any way enhanced by her presence. She’s just a sort of stock actress, versatile enough to be dropped into any leading role you need her for, but not so good that she brings anything unique to the table. Which is probably my biggest problem with Our Brand Is Crisis, as the entire production is couched in Bullock’s ability to sell the film.
Actually a fictionalized reimagining of a documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis tells the story of Jane Bodine (Bullock), a political strategist who backed out of a game that was eating away her conscience who gets pulled back in one more time to help a struggling Bolivian presidential candidate pull a victory out of nothing. What about this particular job is so intriguing as to pull Jane from retirement? A rival from her past, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is the advisor for an opposing candidate.
As a self-proclaimed comedy, this set-up sounds like it would be the perfect sort of fodder for satirical jabs at how Americans involve themselves in other countries’ political battles and how ridiculous it can be to supplant American political strategy onto a population that has no cultural stake in such a rat race. However, Our Brand Is Crisis isn’t that sort of movie, instead paint in broad strokes of physical comedy with a light pattering of character moments to give the supporting cast the appearance of more depth than they actually have. This could potentially work in any other movie, but here it falls flat because Bullock is just not the right person to carry everyone else’s cardboard cut-out personas.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Sandra Bullock, but she just isn’t especially intriguing. A grander personality who wasn’t so interested in making her performances so “Oscar worthy” could have made the physical stuff work, but Bullock just isn’t that grand. And while the script does veer into dramatic territory that Bullock is slightly better suited for, even then it feels like she’s carrying the entire production on her shoulders, with even Thornton phoning it in as her supposed nemesis. The writing most certainly doesn’t help, as nothing stands out as especially clever, witty, or insightful; it’s all just fairly formula-standard burdened-conscience-to-moral-epiphany stuff that isn’t done in any new or intriguing way.
I’m only inclined to call this a bad movie in the sense that I didn’t personally enjoy it. On a purely technical level, it’s serviceable and though much of the comedy didn’t work for me, I can see how it could work for someone more inclined to spend their money on a Sandra Bullock movie. But as far as I’m concerned, this one is a pretty forgettable dud; even with the seemingly interesting premise, it falls flat on its uninspired execution, and Sandra Bullock doesn’t really make that any better.