We’re hip deep in the Presidential race right now and there’s still over a year before the actual election. Which means that what’s going on right now isn’t so much “politics” as it is “political messaging.” We’re being spun, advertised to and so on. It’s a battle of sound bites and attacks, with little substantive being said by people are mostly unqualified to speak on the issues in front of them and the rest of the country.
Our Brand Is Crisis is about how the sausage is made. Sandra Bullock plays Jane, a campaign consultant who’s called to help a candidate in a South American country in his election. She reluctantly accepts the job because she basically has no other options. But when she gets down there she finds the opposing candidate is being coached by her long-time rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). So not only does she want to win on a personal level but she gets caught up in the plight of the people in the country and finds she’s genuinely drawn into wanting to do what’s right for them.
There’s a distinct purple hue on the movie’s one poster, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It shows Bullock as if she’s walking through a press scrum and pushing them back or shielding her eyes from the flash of cameras. Thornton is behind her and glaring, making it clear their rivals of some sort in the movie. The top of the poster touts the film as being “From the producers of Argo,” an attempt to align it with a highly-regarded and high-minded thriller that people enjoyed and which got decent critical buzz. Below that is the kind of half-hearted tagline “May the best campaign win.”
It’s not a great poster since I don’t get the design goals, don’t care for the tagline and don’t think it really conveys anything about the movie. It just kind of puts a lot of information out there and hopes the audience falls for it.
The trailer starts out like it’s setting up a boxing movie, introducing Jane through soundbites referring (presumably) to her being the greatest campaign strategist in history and so on. Then we see she’s fallen a bit but is being offered this gig in South America in a country that’s in trouble and where the candidate she’s being asked to consult on is way behind in the polls. We see her encounter Candy and learn she’s got a history with him that includes a losing one-on-one track record. Then we get into the meat of the story as she begins working and finds that she’s becoming invested in not just the campaign but the outcome and what it means for the country.
It’s an interesting trailer that keeps bouncing back and forth between comedy and earnest drama, which can sometimes be a bit jarring. Bullock is pretty good at that and seems to straddle both parts of the movie well, but that kind of problem can easily sink a movie so it’s a bit disturbing to see that dichotomy so clearly on display here. Making it even more odd is the declaration that this is based on a true story, so the comedic bits come off as increasingly incongruous with the seriousness of the situation we’re supposed to believe the country is in.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website – built on Tumblr – starts playing CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” which is also featured in the trailer, immediately. I love the song, but if like me you don’t need to hear the same 30 second segment over and over again, the “stop” button is down by the ratings label. Fair warning that if you move away from the site to another browser tab the song will restart when you go back, which is super-annoying.
The first section of content is “Cast and Crew,” which has long write-ups about the major players in front of and behind the camera. The presentation is nice, though. “About” has a synopsis of the story that, honestly, is nothing like what’s presented in the trailer. Finally (outside of the prompts to watch the trailer and buy tickets) there’s a section called “Tumblr” that actually should have been called “Video” since it has the trailer and a featurette.
Over on the right of the site there are links to Tumblr tags for Bullock, director David Gordon Green, the movie’s title and more, which is an interesting embracing of the outside conversation for an official marketing effort like this.
The Facebook page for the film has mostly official media in the forms of promotional countdown and other image, videos and more with occasional links off-site. There were no stand-alone Twitter or Instagram profiles for the movie so it hitched a ride on the WB Twitter and Instagram profiles, which shared official marketing materials along with, on Twitter at least, some of the press stories that were run.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’ve seen a few online ads run for the movie but TV was a big component of the advertising push, with at least four different spots being run. Most of those spots used footage we’ve already seen in the trailer but each one that I saw did have at least a bit of new stuff as well, which is a bit surprising but which gives at least a small additional glimpse into the movie’s style.
The TV spots have the same problem the trailer does in that they try to be funny and play up the comedic aspects of the movie while at the same time showing more serious elements.
Media and Publicity
The movie’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival provided a good bounce for the publicity machine. Director Green went on record as saying the movie wasn’t a huge political statement and more about his career and other topics.
George Clooney, who was a producer on the film, also revealed that Bullock’s role was originally written for a man but was changed when she expressed interest. That was a huge media moment in and of itself as people asked why that kind of gender-switching isn’t done more often as a way to create more and better roles for actresses of all ages.
As stated above, the movie is at least “inspired” by true events. So because Salon is, you know, Salon, it took the opportunity to explain how those true events are another example of botched U.S. involvement in foreign politics. But hey, at least it touches on the events that inspired the story as opposed to the rest of the campaign, which completely ignores it.
As I stated, I think the campaign as a whole is a bit inconsistent and kind of confusing. The movie may in fact be a finely-tuned mix of comedy and drama, which wouldn’t be surprising considering the director is David Gordon-Green, who has some experience in walking that line. But in and of itself, the marketing just comes off as dipping toes in both waters without committing to either and therefore may create a sense of trepidation in the audience who will either be turned off at the prospect of being preached to about politics or who can’t decide if it looks like a serious think-piece or a quirky, funny satire.
Because of that I just don’t feel the campaign really lands any meaningful punches. Even aside from the fact that title is vague and kind of weak, the individual elements don’t really present any compelling cases. If you’re seeing all this and thinking it looks good then odds are good you’re either a shoe-in for political films or are a fan of one or more of the major players and will automatically see anything they’re in.