Branded attempts to examine the advertising world and the macabre methods that desperate corporations, led by a relaxed and somewhat tongue in cheek Max Von Sydow, use to squeeze an extra hamburger dollar out of the population as the rainforest nears its end and cheap beef becomes the new plague.
There are a few submerged, befuddled spy threads and some convoluted mind games between characters with Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor), but its all finger-pointing distractions with little meaning on the main thrust of the movie. It borders on ludicrous but sadly never makes the plunge into the satirical depths so needed to raise the film into a higher fantasy.
Misha, (Ed Stoppard), weirdly struck by lighting as a child, sees the magic of commercialism. He uses his communists perspective of branding to build a life for himself, working for a supposed American spy pretending to be a leader of a commercial corporation, while gathering useless information on the local desperate stumbling of confused citizens criminalized by strangely sudden streaks of revenge from Stoppard.
Abby (Leelee Sobieski), pops off the screen in earnest, distracting beauty only to slowly revolve on a merry go round of bi-polar emotions.
She loves, hates, runs, returns and gives birth faster than I can forget her perplexed gazes.
We need fat people to love being fat, Von Sydow decrees. So he creates an unreality reality show operating around a crying chubby girl to carve her into a slim style model. Their only intent is to brand a martyr of sleeping knifed beauty when she falls into a coma from too much anesthesia or sheer boredom.
Stoppard descends into self-pity on a cow farm. Sobieski trips over him into the middle of a field, living in squalor. Though she loves him, the farm out house is the breaking point and disgusted, she returns to her 7 million dollar inheritance.
If this is all reading painful and useless, I suppose it is, so leap to the reason they made this film. It’s all a build up to Stoppard dousing himself in cows blood in an ancient obscure, what in the world are you doing, ceremony.
This enables him to see what others cannot. He sees the metaphysical embodiment of commercial entities living off the life force of humans and controlling their desires, forcing them to eat hamburgers, buy lipstick and succumb or force others to buy their addictions.
Balloon-like, billowing creatures, like bad clown toys, extrude from people’s necks and shoulders, swelling up and squealing for product. Stoppard uses his advertising skills to manipulate the market just as his predecessors have, to set the gas-filled hungry creatures against each other, leading to the hacking death of some and the bloated success of others.
The end effect is Stoppard wants the Russian president to outlaw advertising and allow the population to regain control over their desires, to see what society would be like without all their energy focused on buying useless or dangerous garbage.
The end result was a clean landscape, a horizon bereft of posters, advertising, signs. Clean buildings without branding, skies without corporate names tainting them. A moment of rest for the eyes, a scene with no demands or skewed portrayals of needs or corporate money fighting for our minds and eyes.
That scene alone was worth watching the entire, slightly askew semi drama. Some dark humor and satire would have helped the script move along and pace it in a more entertaining light, much in the manner that Von Sydow was leaning towards, a pop art diatribe on the banal corporate ploys that have already become so obvious and laughable.
A few laughs, other than the unintentional ones, could have heightened the entertainment value. But that could have made Branded perhaps too much of what it was pointing at?
The trailer looked fantastic, the pacing went all wrong in the actual film.