Sunday, September 9, 2012

Branded (C-)

Rather than begin this review like normal, by immediately introducing the name of the film and its director, I would like to open with a quote from Cameron Crowe's 2005 flop, Elizabethtown:

"As somebody once said; there's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-presence of success: Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco...A fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folktale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because it didn't happen to them."

Fiascos are almost legendary in their combination of ambition and ineptitude; gorgeous trainwrecks that are both marvelous and repellent in equal measure. They're endlessly fascinating debacles; infinite research studies in attempting to discover where perfection stumbled into decay, and for what reasons. Was it excessive pretension from the director, countless rewrites from the writers, a prima donna actor demanding their supporting role be expanded, or Hollywood executives demanding the editors make last-second changes to fit the whims of an appalling test audience? Crowe examines the enigmatic subject of the fiasco by almost anthropomorphizing it in his film, but no picture embodies its characteristics more than Jamie Bradshaw's anti-corporate sci-fi allegory Branded: An absolute fiasco by almost every sense of the word.

Even after giving myself a day to recover after viewing the feature, I'm still struggling to successfully comprehend it. Others who have seen the film may have an alternate interpretation of the plot. Mostly taking place in a bizarre alternate version of modern day Moscow, Bradshaw and his co-director Aleksandr Dulerayn attempt to show the audience the cutthroat world of advertising, and how far extremely wealthy companies are willing to go for their products to be successful. However, Branded certainly isn't a corporate thriller, but rather an allegorical mind-bender clearly inspired by The Matrix. The film's main twist is, rather than the humans controlling their brands, it's actually the brands who have complete dominance over mankind; personified by large CGI parasite-like creatures who latch onto human hosts. The conspiracy is that these gigantic monsters freely roam around Moscow, latching onto unsuspecting citizens at will, and only two marketing geniuses know of their existence: A former corporate advertiser turned American spy played by Ed Stoppard, and a wealthy mastermind who gained his marketing powers through divine intervention played by a gloriously hammy Max von Sydow.

While almost immediately it's understood what you're watching will probably be a failure, it takes a few scenes to fully comprehend that Bradshaw and Dulerayn have concocted an almost masterful fiasco; a feature with endless ambition and barely a clue how to fulfill it. With the occasional striking image or memorable scene, it's not hard to imagine an alternate cut in which everything comes together. Also, many of the film's negative aspects can surely be blamed on the distributor Roadside Attractions, such as grating, unnecessary narration, and a ludicrous final twist which reveals the identity of this narrator. It's an undoubtably strange, uncompromising vision these directors have, which is deeply appreciated in a world filled with constant Hollywood dribble. However, due to poor editing, and possible studio interference, Branded slides from an ambitious possible sleeper hit, to an almost incomprehensible collage of compelling imagery and bizarre plot points. It has its moments, but can definitely be considered a fiasco.

Grade: C-


  1. what did you say about the film? I saw it the other day in Toronto and found while it had some good writing & acting it was a failure as a motion picture--I couldn't connect with the characters and much of it simply didn't work and the plot was very contrived in the worst possible way--especially the last 10 minutes. Dambroff and Clawson have some promise as actors, and Brighton as a Director but this is not going to go anywhere IMHO. Not a train wreck by any means, but very hard/awkward? to watch for 2 hours...

    1. It had a lot of ambition and an occasional memorable scene, but overall I think the end result was misguided enough to consider the film a fiasco.