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Our Brand Is Crisis
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Our Brand Is Crisis stars Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton in a behind-the-scenes look at how political campaigns are conducted -- a cutthroat, cynical, play-dirty, intense affair that might be too heavy for younger viewers. Expect swearing ("f--k," "s--t" and more), as well as some sexual references (including to masturbation), trash-talking, yelling, and scenes showing police clashing with protestors. Characters, including some supposedly on the wagon, drink, sometimes to excess, and smoke.
What's the story?
There's a reason Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) has the nickname "Calamity Jane." A smart, fiery, but unpredictable political strategist who left the business for personal and professional reasons, Jane is now being lured back by Americans who are helping shape the Bolivian presidential race by working with candidate Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida). Jane's not buying him as president, but she can't turn down a challenge, especially one mounted by her nemesis (and former mentor), Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Jane's colleagues (played by Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, and Ann Dowd) aren't sure she's up for the challenge -- or stable enough to withstand it. But they know she's their only hope, as long as she can find a way to survive the business she abhors.
Is it any good?
The biggest reason to see OUR BRAND IS CRISIS is the ever-watchable Bullock. She fully inhabits the character she portrays, her eyes feral and ready for combat, but her carriage very clearly ready to flee the entire mess. It's a particular genius in Bullock's work -- she telegraphs so much in a gesture. But Our Brand Is Crisis isn't really about small gestures. It tries hard to paint a big story, to some success (the ensemble in general is top-notch), but it's hobbled by superficialities.
Take the actual high-stakes political contest at the heart of movie: Crisis purports to raise the curtain on the malice and rancor that are the fuel of campaigns. But the dirty "tricks" that it chooses to reveal -- rumor-mongering, lying, negative advertising -- are amateur hour. They seem so simple and are therefore unsurprising to any viewer the least bit savvy about how politics works. A film that positions itself as one that raises the curtain on secrets ought to reveal secrets that actually dismay (or disgust). Our Brand is Crisis, though enjoyable to watch, is a lot like the politicians it portrays, failing to deliver on its initial promises.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Our Brand Is Crisis portrays politics. Is it cynical? Is it demoralizing? Do you think that's an accurate depiction of how campaigns really are?
Is the movie's take on elections and candidates believable? How can voters educate themselves about those seeking their support?
Bullock's role was originally written as a man, then rewritten as a woman when she expressed interest in the film. Do you think the character's gender has any impact on the larger story? Do you think there are any gender roles at play?
Why does Jane participate in a business that she seems to disdain? What does she get out of it?