Writers: Peter Straughan
Director: David Gordon Green
After a number of years out of the political game consultant/strategist "Calamity" Jane Bodine is lured back into the murky world of election campaigns, heading to Bolivia to take on the seemingly impossible task of turning the arrogant, unpopular Pedro Castillo (Joaquim De Almeida) into a man worthy of re-election. Oh yes, Castillo was President before and few people liked him the previous time so Jane has her work cut out. To make matters even worse, front runner Victor Rivera is way ahead in the polls and has Jane's longtime rival Pat Candy (Thornton) as his consultant. As the tagline has it, may the best campaign win...
A political comedy/drama with Bullock and Thornton front and centre, produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov - got to be a winner, right? Wrong, I'm afraid to say. If you're expecting a satire with teeth then allow me to tell me that this has been to the dentist and it'll be on nothing but soup for a while. I have no problem that the film's targets are easy ones, what I do have a problem with is that it manages to somehow miss those targets by a mile at almost every turn.
So what kind of messages are we given? Politicians might not be very nice guys. Not exactly a revelation. Come to that, the people who are trying to get them elected might just be even worse. Tell me something I don't know. Treated with the sort of merciless humour that a film such as The Big Short - also out this week, and a whole lot better than this - employed, this could still have worked extremely well but too often the story is bogged down in sentiment and inexplicable slapstick. Bullock's character falls down stairs, has a chair collapse under her as she attempts to stand upon it and even throws up into a bin mid-meeting. Yes, Sandra Bullock is fantastic at being a klutz but what point does it have here?
Then there's the rivalry between Bodine and Candy. A lot is made of how much Jane really wants to get one over on Pat so I was expecting nothing less than fireworks whenever they found themselves in the same space. Well, it's less a case of fireworks and much more like a sparkler that some idiot throws water on before it's really got going. Every time Bullock and Thornton squared up to each other I was thinking "this time is it's really going to escalate" and just about every time it was the same result - couple of minor barbs then one of them wanders off. I was desperately waiting for some Sorkin-style hilarious/brutal verbal kickings that just never came.
That's not to say there isn't the odd laugh but it is only the odd laugh. And towards the end, when the movie comes up with its best - if obvious joke - involving a singing telegram, I was left thinking "That's odd, I laughed". The political machinations don't feel particularly inspired either, instead degenerating into a series of tit-for-tat moves that are passed off as genius by the script but just seemed like common sense to me. Maybe I'm just good at playing dirty.
It's testament to the talents of Bullock that, beyond the pratfalls and some tiresome frat-level antics involving firing projectiles at Thornton's hotel room and then mooning his campaign bus later on (look, don't go to this just because you now think you get to see Sandra Bullock's arse, it may not even be hers), I still found her character interesting. The quirks and flaws of Jane Bodine are writ large here. And explained by either Jane or other characters in case you didn't pick up on why she is like she is.
As for Billy Bob Thornton, he's more than up to the task of playing the smooth, seasoned shark that is Pat Candy but there's not enough of him in the film. He doesn't loom over Bodine's campaign as he should and ends up being an irritant rather than a genuine threat. Not Billy Bob's fault and I direct you to his amazing turn in Fargo Season 1, you will not be disappointed. Anthony Mackie, as fellow Castillo campaigner Ben, barely registers because he's given so little to do and a short scene in which his character is given a bit of history feels clumsily grafted on.
For a political comedy drama, there's much less in the way of politics than you'll be looking for, any comedy is thin on the ground and any truly dramatic moments are fleeting. Their brand may be crisis but it's not a brand I'll be buying in future.
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