REVIEWS: Our Brand is Crisis, Burnt

If I cared more about politics, I’d get too upset. What I take from movies like Our Brand is Crisis troubles me enough.  In this case, it seems that there aren’t enough election shenanigans in the United States, so we have to go to other countries to screw with theirs.  Granted, the 2002 presidential candidates in Bolivia hired us to run their campaigns, but the work the consultants did for them is probably not the type of product we should be exporting.

Our Brand is Crisis is a fictional account of the true story that was told in a 2005 documentary of the same name. Not only have the names been changed to protect the innocent, but also the sex of the lead character, “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock).  Although I have been unable to verify this, I think she plays a character based on James Carville.  This is odd because her opponent in the movie, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), is nearly a dead ringer for the real Carville.

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It’s really beside the point, though, because I can evaluate the movie based only on its entertainment value. By those standards, it’s rather ho-hum.  It’s neither outrageous enough to be truly funny, nor serious enough to make a pointed statement.  It has its moments.  Bullock, Thornton and most of the supporting cast are good.  However, it’s overall flat.  Our Brand is Crisis was written by Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express).

I felt the same way (ho-hum) about Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones, a chef seeking the pinnacle of his career, three Michelin stars, for a restaurant in London. It’s about more than just that for him, though.  He’s also seeking redemption for his bad boy behavior that destroyed the reputation of his mentor and his restaurant several years ago.  He’s done his penance by shucking one million oysters in Louisiana and now he’s ready to make amends by including all his enemies in his new venture.

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We never see any of his past actions; we only hear stories about them. That makes it a hard to see Jones make a transition.  We don’t know what current behavior is characteristic or not, so that makes it hard to root for him.  I really tried, but by the time the moral of the story became the fact that he couldn’t do it all by himself and that his staff was his family, I gave up.  The movie itself transitioned from a potentially interesting twist on a familiar story to simply the familiar story.

I did like one part of Burnt and I liked it a lot. Daniel Bruhl plays Tony, the best maître d in London who is not so secretly in love with Adam.  Of course, Adam isn’t gay, but that doesn’t stop Tony from pining for him.  It’s subtle, but says a lot about how Adam may have manipulated him over the years and why Tony would help him now.  The conclusion of this subplot is not so subtle.  It’s blatant and perhaps cruel, but in that moment, it tells us more about Adam than the entire rest of the movie.

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