Branded is one of the strangest viewing experiences I’ve had in a while. Here we have a film that starts off seemingly wanting to deliver an important message about the dangers of advertising and consumerism before eventually turning into a complete train wreck. Whatever was on the writers/directors’ minds gets lost in a mess of bad writing, muddled tones, and a really silly performance from the lead filled with plenty of overacting. However, before we get to all that, let’s take a look at what little plot the film has.
The story follows Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard), an advertising expert in Russia who is working on the trailer for a new horror film when he becomes reacquainted with Abby (Leelee Sobieski), the niece of his boss, Bob (Jeffrey Tambor). Misha and Abby, who have struck up a relationship, eventually start working on a new TV show together that involves extreme surgical makeovers, but disaster strikes when one of the people on the show goes into a coma during their surgery. Afterward, Misha feels the need to get away, so he goes out of town and stays at a farm, where he has a bizarre experience. Abby eventually finds him and takes him home, but he’s not quite the same man that he was.
If that didn’t seem to make much sense, then there’s a very good reason for that: This film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mentioned that it wants to deliver a message about the nature of advertising and consumerism, but the deepest it ever gets in that regard are that advertising can be a powerful device and consumerism can be dangerous. This is something that every single person watching the film already knows before it even begins, so what was the point of making an entire film about it?
Now let’s examine its key problems. The film is terribly written. For starters, there’s an incredibly irritating narrator telling us everything we need to know about what’s going on because apparently the writers, Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn, were too lazy to just let the characters and the characters’ actions do the explaining instead. However, this doesn’t even begin to explain what the writers were thinking in terms of plot development.
Later on in the film, while Misha is out at the farm, I mentioned he has a “bizarre experience.” This occurs while he’s asleep and involves him having a dream within a dream (no, unfortunately we are not talking about Inception) where he hears a voice that tells him what to do. He is told by this voice to sacrifice a cow in an ancient ritual, something that ties back to the opening scene where he sees a giant cow’s head made out of stars moving in the sky. Now that I think about it, “bizarre” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
This ritual then allows him to see what others can’t, which leads into the films second problem: muddled tones. As I said, the film starts off in a serious manner as a film about advertising, but as you can clearly see, the film just gets downright silly (I’m finding myself having to use this word a lot lately). However, it doesn’t stop there. The ritual allows him to see creatures coming out of people that represent their desire to consume.
So, if you were taking it seriously in the least in the first third to half of the film, by the middle, you’ll merely be wondering what in the world was going through the writers’ heads as the film becomes completely random. It then turns into a bit of a kid’s film for the final third where we see these badly animated, cartoonish creatures popping out of people and buildings. At this point, if you’re not laughing hysterically at how bad it is, all you can really do is sit back and ponder why and how the film got made in the first place.
Then there’s the performance of Ed Stoppard. His devotion to the absurd material is admirable, but he ends up putting way too much effort into it, making it seem like he’s just trying too hard to make it work. He should have realized once he read the script that no amount of effort was going to be able to bring this disaster to life in a believable manner. As for the appearances of Max Von Sydow and Jeffrey Tambor, it’s unclear as to what drove them to join in this mess. They must have needed a quick paycheck or they signed up without knowing what the movie was about.
By the end of the film, I was at a complete loss as to explain what anyone was thinking being anywhere near this thing. The great cow in the sky should have been a warning that this was going to be one weird film, but it isn’t until you get to Misha randomly sacrificing a cow that you truly know something is wrong. Bradshaw and Dulerayn may have had good intentions when setting out to put this film together, but all it has proven is that they are not talented when it comes to writing, nor particularly so when it comes to directing.
Turning now to the technical specs, the film is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p HD transfer that’s incredibly sharp and clear. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is loud and lucid, letting every little sound be heard without a problem. The film may be a disaster, but at the very least you can see and hear it in excellent quality.
As far as special features go, you only get an audio commentary with the writers/directors/producers. A sampling of the commentary shows that they have a few things to say about the characters and the assembling of the film, but overall, it’s not particularly interesting or informative. I would have loved to see some interviews with the cast so they could explain firsthand what their thoughts on the film were and why they ever signed up for it in the first place, but alas, they are not provided.
If it’s not clear by now, this Blu-Ray is clearly not recommendable. The film may be presented in really good quality, but the film itself is a disaster on just about every front. It’s rare to see a film fall apart completely before your eyes, straying into the most nonsensical areas that you couldn’t have made up if you tried. It’s a shame I already made up my worst films of 2012 list a couple of weeks ago, this would have been a welcome addition.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.