Comedy can be a weapon and it is the deadliest one in Russell Brand’s arsenal, as he battles social ills, personal demons and a sluggish news media in this energetic, complex, and frequently hilarious documentary. Channelling his frenetic energy into an exploration of historical leaders (including Jesus, Gandhi and Malcolm X) for a stand-up tour (Messiah Complex), Brand unsurprisingly finds much that he identifies with.
But of the several threads followed in the film, possibly the most compelling is the arc of Brand’s changing political engagement, charting his bumpy ride from agitator to spokesperson-in-the-spotlight to a celebrity with an inspiring propensity for ground-level activism. Having twice scooped the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, for Dig! and We Live in Public, director Ondi Timoner is adept at capturing wayward subjects and probing the dynamics of ego. After following Brand for two years (and inheriting the project from documentary great Albert Maysles), Timoner’s sharp mind proves a fine match for Brand’s own ever-questioning manner, with occasional flashes of antagonism between the two adding further spark to this sophisticated portrait of a man who thrives on being impossible to pin down.