4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
There is so much wrong with this film it's hard to choose a point to start,
This review is from: Branded (2010) (Amazon Instant Video)
So let's start with what is good: Leelee Sobieski and Jeffrey Tambor are doing a great job. Both are utterly believable in their roles in a world that is ... well ... insane, illogical and stupid. Also, the central message that marketing through branding and advertisement rules our lives and should be stopped is a good point, which runs oddly parallel to what we now have in Australia (and I gather other parts of the world) where cigarettes are no longer displayed and the packaging is "plain".
... and really, that is it. The movie is ~105 minutes and overall is not too badly paced, though arguably pacing is not an issue because as you are watching there are so many questions on your mind as to what the director was thinking, how this makes sense, or why Tambor and Sobieski aren't in good movies. Still there is enough happening on screen that there is a constant stream of "what is going on?" coming at you.
So what is this about: well, Stoppard plays Misha who was struck by lightning and thus was foretold to have an interesting life. He has a natural knack for marketing and eventually becomes successful at it. And here is the first thing that doesn't make sense, making me think either I missed something, or it's not explained. Given the rest of the movie, I'm thinking that it was not explained. Misha is winning awards but is getting turned down for pitches even though he is clearly busy working on stuff. I have no idea where that was supposed to go, I don't think it had any impact and maybe it was the biggest red herring ever. Maybe it's a metaphor about misdirection, which would take this movie to a meta level few would attempt and if that's what they did on purpose then well done.
Anyway, out of this comes that he produces with Sobieski's character a reality TV show about a girl who will have plastic surgery to become thin and thus popular etc. The entire thing is a plot engineered to result in outrage which eventually is supposed to change the world's body image ideal. Said girl ends up in a coma, whilst around the world a model dies from anorexia. These two events thus cause everyone to want to be fat within six years. Although this marketing stunt is done in Russia (where the movie is set) because it could not work in the first world, it seems to have fairly far reaching effects though ... it isn't made clear if this appearance is just that. There is scene near the end where it is implied that the US were drawn in too, but again it isn't really that clear. The strings in this are pulled by Von Sydow's character, who eventually is revealed as Misha's arch nemesis through their shared bond of lighting, and some other factors. This isn't a spoiler, because he is actually introduced as the villain.
Because of girl going into comma and some subtle media manipulation a la "Yes Prime Minister" (Which again is not explained) Misha and Abby (Sobieski) are exiled and split up. That doesn't matter though because they eventually meet again after Misha has become a cowboy and incidentally Abby has a son from Misha. Misha does something with a cow (I was tuning out at this point but the narrator indicated it was significant so I remember that there was a special red cow) and when he goes back to civilisation with Abby he starts seeing that brands are feeding (??) of people. This parasitic ... "relationship" is visualised with dreadful CG which is so bad that one can only assume the directors thought this would make a statement. (It really is that bad and messy).
Meanwhile, Abby thinks Misha is going insane, largely because he is going for the whole violent bipolar thing where he is apologetic right before, during and after slamming Abby into the ground, nevermind that what he's talking about is metaphysical while to him it is reality. From here though (due to the loss) he realises what he must do to right the wrongs of the world, or at least marketing, and thus works towards the destruction of all branding. And to do this he resorts to the exact sales pitch Von Sydow used in his Faustian pitch. At this point there is less than 30 minutes of film left, and this is also where the trailer's make it look really awesome.
Remember, how I said that the misdirection about Misha's success was possibly a statement? This is roughly where it syncs up again, because the trick to marketing the movie is making out is that say there is a reality show about becoming thin through surgery, but what that's really about is selling fast food. Or brands are feeding of you but really that's bad for you because ... advertising was used to get you interested in the first place.
So, it does make you think, though I really don't think that it is making you think along the right lines: it's not talking about how advertisers work, but rather how they could work if they were completely without morals and on LSD, while the world itself subscribes to the rules of Wonderland from Through the Looking Glass. And that's exactly what's going on, everyone (except Von Sydow who arguably is just evil) is off their medication and causality is suspended. The people follow the logic of "reality TV about weightloss through plastic surgery is outrageous" therefore "I will gorge myself on fast food". And although there is a little more to it, the causation and logic is still just as absent.
Just in closing, the reason I watched the movie is because I saw a review on the Escapist which said it was the worst movie of 2000something, but at the same time the footage being shown (from the trailer) looked pretty good (this is where the "good" CG is happening). So I expected bad, and I almost gave up, but I wanted to know where this was going to go, because just past half way I did not foresee where this could possibly go. Now that I've seen it I'm still struggling. Someone mentioned that this this was like "Idiocracy". It is not: Idiocracy makes a statement about what an extrapolation of extremes in our current society might mean for the future, and then asks the viewer to consider this further. It takes stupidity from today which anyone can see in our world and amplifies it to a national / global scale, but acknowledges that this is a (d)evolution. Branded is a story of enlightenment where a stupid person in an insane world causes the salvation of the world by using evil techniques (even for marketing) for good. It doesn't ask the audience anything, but rather preaches and ironically does it so badly and unconvincing. It's akin to a religious leader who practices all the things he preaches against, and in his preaching equates good and evil not with action but intention of those involved.
And for those who think this might just be art house, and no-one got it: Really, that's not it, the movie is stupid... Arguably so stupid you might have to see it to believe it, I know I didn't think it was going to get quite this bad. Like I said, I kept watching because I wanted to know where they'd go, and I never would have seen that coming (bits of it sure, but ...). That said, this isn't a complete train wreck, it isn't so bad it's good, it remains dreadfully bad. What it is, is this: so stupid it's almost interesting, if the experience wasn't so useless. That said, this is the kind of movie you can probably use to great effect if you got the right assignment question (maybe something along the lines of "what drug induced reasoning might be comparable to").
Just thinking over this some more, there are two things I wanted to point out: first, this movie makes Plan 9 From Outer Space seem coherent and sensical. Second, there are typos in the forced subtitles for the Russian dialog.