‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ mirrors 2016 U.S. election process
Although well-timed considering we in America are already knee-deep in the upcoming 2016 election process, “Our Brand Is Crisis” doesn’t go far enough for most of its runtime, and then at the last minute it goes somewhere disconnected; probably in an effort to give a rather cynical movie a somewhat happy Hollywood ending.
America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock plays Jane Bodine, an American political campaign strategist who’s been out of the game for years. Her and her ilk are possibly the bane of our collective political existence, but we should feel badly for Jane, since she at least feels badly about herself. After a voluntary stint in a psyche ward and lifelong battles with depression, she’s found her calm in a secluded cabin in the woods.
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But just when she thinks she’s out, they pull her back in to South America, hired by Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), an unpopular former President who needs Jane’s help getting himself reelected President of Bolivia. But Castillo’s competitor for the job is the far more likable Rivera (Louis Arcell), and he’s represented by Jane’s long-term rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), himself an American political strategist. Jane and Pat have quite the combative history together although it all starts playful enough … but their competing campaigns soon turn ugly, personal, and entertaining to a certain extent — if you can forget how awful it all is, how much their scams mirror our current political process, and that “Our Brand Is Crisis” is based on a true story. Even the title is taken from the 2005 documentary of the same name, with the shared title based on a turn of phrase coined by one of the real-life political consultants.
Loosely framed in flashback as an answer to an interviewer’s question to Bullock’s “Calamity” Jane, “Our Brand Is Crisis” unfolds realistically and somewhat cynically, as the corruption in Bolivia echoes the corruption here in the states, as do the concerns of the everyday people: the proper use of national resources, jobs, equality, etc. It all sounds achingly familiar, as does the rhetoric of the strategists for hire. Since Rivera is “new” and people vote for New when Change is the focus, Castillo being a known commodity can be his strength since people vote for Old when Fear is the focus. So they decide to own the Crisis brand and push the idea that the country is in the toilet, and only the tried and true can see our way through; that the status quo is preferable to the unknown. Sound familiar?
THE FILM: ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’
CRITIC RATING: ** stars
STARRING: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie
BEHIND THE SCENES: First film Sandra Bullock has produced since All About Steve (2009). George Clooney was cast but dropped out and was replaced by Billy Bob Thornton. The protagonist played by Sandra Bullock was originally male but David Gordon Green and Peter Straughan were willing to switch the role’s gender for her casting. First time Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have worked together as producing partners.
PLAYING: Layton Hills 9, Megaplex 13, Cinemark Farmington, Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown, Megaplex 14
MPAA RATING: Rated R for language including some sexual references. 107 minutes
Reason is the real loser here, as the real priorities take a back seat to dirty tricks — which again, are entertaining enough if they weren’t so realistic and commonplace.
Most of the fun comes from watching Bullock and Thornton parry and thrust, trying to read and undermine each other, getting into each other’s head in order to spoil their campaign game. It gets sad when it gets personal; and rather than actually discussing issues, more time is spent leaking phony stories or redirecting the narrative away from the obvious shortcoming of their own candidates. A handy graphic depicts just how well these tactics are doing, given the points our candidates receive in the polls.
Less clean is the chilling aftermath of such meddling in foreign affairs, as riots break out in the streets while Jane and Pat’s teams put aside their rivalry long enough to share a car ride out of the melee they helped cause, all while being preoccupied with such First World problems as spotty cell-phone reception.
The third act out-of left-field change of heart for Jane feels as false as the invented sparring between rival campaigns, as the real-life candidate seeking election was Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, and he was the only candidate to have such outside American assistance.
For a far more in-depth look at American meddling, check out the 2005 doc of the same name instead of this watered-down version.