Our Brand Is Crisis
October 29, 2015
Steve Jobs (** ½) R
The good news is that director Danny Boyle’s take on the Steve Jobs story, Steve Jobs, is much superior when compared to the similar film from several years back, Jobs, which starred Ashton Kutcher in the title role. That wasn’t a hard feat to accomplish when taking into consideration the rushed, made for TV movie feel that the earlier film had. Still, that’s not saying that this second cinematic take on the subject isn’t without its own set of problems, most of them attributable to the uneven structure of the film.
The film is scripted by the undeniably talented Aaron Sorkin, who tackled similar themes in his scripting of director David Fincher’s The Social Network five years ago. Sorkin’s straightforward approach to the material on that earlier film worked beautifully but here he has opted for a story structure that renders the Jobs’ story into a three-act play.
Each of the three segments last around three quarters of an hour and the resulting film plays like a sort of anthology film, a Steve Jobs greatest hits, if you will. The first segment is extremely well done but the quality of the remaining two segments seem to taper off with the second section being merely okay and the final act proving to be somewhat of a disappointment.
Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs opens spectacularly in 1984 as Jobs attempts to launch the Mac. It’s plagued with problems right from the get go and Sorkin’s script, aided by Boyle’s visual flair for this type of filmmaking, puts us into Jobs’ skin and we feel the pressure he’s under to make this product launch a success. The second act, which is less vibrant, is still interesting as the mastermind of Apple launches his NeXT computer in 1988. The film finally ends with the launch of the iMAC in 1998.
Those going into this film uninitiated will probably be shocked at how Jobs the man is portrayed as a human being. As a businessman he was undoubtedly matchless but his human flaws almost overshadow his achievements in technology if you subscribe to the film’s portrayal of Jobs. Crafting a film around a man whose grand vision literally changed the world, a man who was also a louse as a human being, is no easy assignment but I guess Steve Jobs does some justice to the task at hand. I just wish the film had given us more to chew than what it ultimately leaves the viewer with, when all is said and done. (Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen.)
Our Brand is Crisis (**) R
Director David Gordon Greene’s career has been one I’ve taken note of over the years with great interest. After bursting on to the scene with his widely praised 2001 directorial debut George Washington, Greene churned out some interesting dramatic films, All the Real Girls and Snow Angels among my favorites, before opting for mainstream fare of such questionable taste as Pineapple Express, The Sitter and Your Highness. His latest film, Our Brand is Crisis, is an uneasy melding of his lighter and more serious minded efforts. So much so that a more apt title for the picture might have been, Our Film is having an Identity Crisis.
Sandra Bullock turns up here donning blonde tresses in the film’s lead role, not that it really matters, except the last time I recall Bullock having gone blonde was for the 2009 film The Blindside. I wasn’t a fan of that clichéd piece of tripe, in spite of its having netted the actress an Oscar, so perhaps a film sporting a blonde Bullock should be a warning sign to me from here on.
Billy Bob Thornton and Bullock in ‘Crisis’
At any rate, Bullock’s character in Our Brand is Crisis is ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine. She’s a political strategist clearly bearing resemblances to James Carville, who gained fame during the Clinton campaigns. Bodine is supposedly the best at what she does in spite of the fact that she’s retired and living in some sort of secluded mountain cabin after a string of failures, which leads one to wonder why she would be enlisted to aid in a political campaign in the first place, given her recent losses, but I digress.
The plot mechanics get underway when a group of political advisers (Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan, Scott McNairy and Ann Dowd) enlist her aid in getting former head of state, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almedia) elected in Bolivia, in spite of the fact that he’s clearly trailing in the polls. The first two acts of the film clearly are played for laughs as Bodine and company pull out all the stops, reaching their nadir during a scene where the strategist sticks her naked butt out of the window of a moving tour bus. The audience I was in the presence of clearly enjoyed the comedic shenanigans transpiring and laughed heartily. I suppose they’re less jaded than I am.
After playing the film mostly for laughs, the film then takes a strange detour during its final section and the story suddenly turns serious. This strange shift in tone makes it seem as if Our Brand is Crisis is actually two separate movies vying for the audience’s attention. You can’t have it both ways and, as a result, the film succeeds neither as the satire it clearly wants to be during its early section or the serious expose it wants to be during its finale illustrating the political films may not be the strong suit of director David Gordon Greene.
(Also starring Billy Bob Thornton.)
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