Movie Review: Branded
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2012
Directed by: Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn
Genre: Action, Drama
Stars: 3 out of 5
"Branded" is one of those films set in the not-too-distant future that attempts to warn moviegoers about what the future holds. This one follows a Russian man, Misha (Ed Stoppard, "The Pianist"). His supervisor, Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor, "Arrested Development"), hails him as the next marketing genius because of his work on advertisements tailored to specific customer groups. A character simply named the Marketing Guru (Max von Sydow, "Shutter Island") creates a new plan to increase sales at fast-food restaurants.
The Marketing Guru launches a new reality show that forces women into unusual situations in the hopes of showing the public that fat is good. While most go along with his plan, Bob goes against the tide when he realizes that his niece, Abby (Leelee Sobieski, "The Glass House"), is one of the producers. Misha disappears for a few hours and comes back with the ability to see anyone's desires. The film begins to delve into Misha's personality, and the audience wonders whether he will side with Bob or the Marketing Guru.
The genius of "Branded" lies with the film's ability to poke fun at modern marketing campaigns. Early in the film, Misha gains fame in the industry for editing trailers of horror films, which succeed in getting more people into theaters. "Branded" uses humor as a major element in many scenes, focusing on how much people rely on modern technology and advertising.
Even the Marketing Guru falls under the comedic banner. Von Sydow typically takes on meatier roles in dramas like "The Exorcist," but here he plays a campy character who laughs at himself. He does such a great job of chewing the scenery that some viewers might wish he had a bigger role. The same does not hold true of his costars, who don't seem to understand the humor of the film.
Sobieski jumps back and forth between two different acting types. In some parts of the film, she acts as if she is in a Shakespeare play on stage; in other scenes, she has such a blank look on her face that it immediately pulls viewers out of the film. Tambor does a slightly better job in the film, but he frequently drops the comedic elements in favor of a straight face that doesn't work in the film. Stoppard outshines many of his costars, acting campy when the role calls for it and turning on the charm when needed.
"Branded" plays like two very different films. The first half of the film is a slow-moving film set in the advertising world, while the second half is like a fast-paced sci-fi film. The faster scenes keep the film moving and the viewer entertained. When the film slows down, it makes the film drag; the editing could have been tighter. The scene when Misha goes through a cleansing ritual should be shorter. By the time the film jumps back into the story, some viewers might feel a little turned off at this random, longish scene.
While the movie falters a few times, it does have some strong moments. The relationship between Abby and Misha has an interesting dynamic, especially when the Marketing Guru recruits them for his new show. Though they clearly don't want to take part in the show, they decide to help each other get through it. Abby comes across as the more believable character. When she tells him that they can run away together and leave their jobs behind, Misha assures her that he can have everything right now. Stoppard plays the scenes with glee, channeling John Hamm's portrayal of Don Draper in "Mad Men." Stoppard might lack Hamm's charm, but he comes close to playing a Draper of the future.
The best part about "Branded" is that it features a number of twists and turns that viewers won't see coming. The film lets the audience get comfortable with a certain plot line or scene before ripping away the curtain and introducing something new and completely different. The CGI work on the film is equally interesting. The director gives a wink and a nod to those who dislike CGI graphics, showing that future advertisers depend on this technology for advertising. He then turns around and adds a few CGI scenes into the film, letting viewers know that this technology isn't going anywhere.
"Branded" has a few faults, but the film is interesting enough to keep viewers entertained. The plot seems plausible, especially as advertising keeps changing; some of the action shots are mind blowing. "Branded" manages to create a story that will leave viewers wondering what the future holds.