I like movies that have more to read upon. I think those types of movies can be ambitious and more thought-provoking than the ones that spoon-feed its details to its audience. However, every now and then, something comes along that makes me want to shake my head, that even when a premise provokes a thought, the screenplay and/or the direction fumbles everything either by over-preaching or just plain lack of skill in storytelling. Then, sometimes, a movie such as “Branded” comes along, that just becomes something else.
Directed, produced and written by Jamie Bradshaw and Alexsandr Dulerayn, “Branded” is a film that uses the extremes in allegorical storytelling that is wrapped around some sort of conspiracy theories. It is not something easily to be digested, and it is to be argued that it isn’t easily understood. The film takes us to the 80’s Russia when a young Misha Galkin gets struck by lightning; miraculously he lives and someone declares that he is about to have a different kind of life. Fast forward to the present, into some sort of dystopian world, and Misha (now played by Ed Stoppard) is a known marketer-advertiser, and with his partner, Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor), the two play a huge influence in a post-communism Russia. Misha also begins to develop a relationship with Bob’s daughter Abby (Leelee Sobieski) but something drives Misha away from what he had done very well. During his time in an isolated area, Misha realizes that the world is being controlled by some sort of monstrous global conspiracy to keep the public disillusioned, dependent and easily managed. Now he sets out his own plan to free the global population from what can be seen as manipulation through advertising….
To understand “Branded”, one need to acknowledge the power of advertising and marketing. Let’s be honest here, there is a huge number of products that sell in billions and yet, they aren’t really good for us, and in some ways, it damages our independence. The screenplay takes us in the thick of such a thing, it announces that the first marketing campaign had been done by Stalin and in this present world, it makes indirect references to companies that have seemed to have made an impact in our society. “The Burger” is obviously a metaphor for fast food while “Yepple” is a metaphor for Apple corporation. The film boldly goes into this premise and isn’t shy about it. Instead of directly criticizing the lean, curvy models of today, it brings forth a commentary as to how something can be promoted and bought as long as the proper things were put into play.
There is something to be said for how the human mind works. I know the message is as clear as day, and doubtless movies such as this can alienate viewers. It brings the viewer into a glimpse of the human condition, as how vanity can play a part in the greater scheme of things and how people need to feel that they belonged. The writing also tries to incorporate how ideas can be suggested through the media and how people need to replace one need for another. I know there is a strong commentary about the social and political effects of the media in an open world, and it chooses a nation that had finally embraced capitalism and democracy to get its point across. People need something to fill a void, and if it wasn’t one thing then it would be the other. Yes, there is something very strong in what it was trying to communicate, but the problem was, the screenplay just wasn’t refined or polished to make a more powerful impact.
I guess the problems of the movie begins with its structure. It uses certain themes of spiritual and mystical practices that make it rather polarizing. It shows but it barely defines, it uses visuals to express what it is trying to say. Monstrous unseen creatures representing the corporations while someone who had gained a supposed cleaner perspective tries to change what had been established. I guess Misha represents man’s hubris and how someone with some sort of motivation can be the instrument to make things even worst--two wrongs cannot make a right so to speak. Abby and her father Bob represent how families can be divided because of their beliefs, while an unnamed character played by Max Von Sydow represents greed. The film is rich in symbolism and drenched in metaphor that one needs to learn to read through what is being seen. The film is rather episodic and this made the narrative feel a little too heavy-handed. It comes a little too close in becoming ‘preachy’ that the movie suffers. Made worst that it took its time trying to get to where it wants to go with some flashbacks, the film becomes a little of a chore to follow.
I don’t mind movies that move at a slow pace and having one follow a screenplay that is buried in metaphor does require a steady hand in its direction. Unfortunately, Bradshaw and Dulerayn may have the right ambition and idea, but they just did not have what it took to communicate such a premise. The film lacked power and passion, I understood what it was trying to do, as it was the kind of presentation that requires more to "read" into than "watch", but it became very monotonous. Too much preaching, wrapped around a dystopian world with a small characterization certainly made its point. The film did have something relevant to say (but wasn‘t anything new), and granted it was nice that some filmmakers made this effort; the problem was it all became a little too boring and undisciplined. My head hurt because of the way it tried to pound its message into me.
Star Rating: Branded makes a strong case for why wonky conspiracy theories should never, ever serve as the foundation of a screenplay. This movie is bizarre, self indulgent, appallingly cynical, and unlikely to be understood by anyone inside or out of the world it mercilessly targets. While obviously intended as a dark satire of advertising and consumerism, it comes off as a series of hysterical ramblings that in all likelihood have little to no basis in actual … more