Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Our Brand Is Crisis

 Our Brand is Crisis

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Kent Brockman: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work."
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half David Johansens out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Burnt-out campaign operative ignores own advice in order to get betrayed again.

Tagline: "May the best campaign win."

Better Tagline: "Electile dysfunction?" No, that's cheap.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: After several election defeats, campaign guru "Calamity" Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) has literally run to the hills to escape politics. Now sober and with a knack for pottery, she is nonetheless cajoled into jump-starting the aspirations of Bolivian presidential hopeful Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), currently languishing at 5th place in the polls, 28 points behind the favorite, Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella). Improbably, Bodine must craft a new strategy for her staff (Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd) to defeat the front runner, whose campaign is not coincidentally being run by Bodine's political nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).

"Critical" Analysis: Participant Media obtained the rights to the 2005 Rachel Boynton (Big Men) documentary of the same name, which was based on the real-life 2002 Bolivian presidential election. That election, in which Democratic operative James Carville and his consultants helped elect a candidate with a decidedly pro-Western bent, ended up a disaster. David Gordon Green's fictionalization isn't *that* bad, but ultimately can't decide what direction it wants to go.

First, though; I have a beef with the casting. Not the fact that George Clooney was originally slated to play the role that eventually went to Bullock, but that we have Billy Bob Thornton starring in a movie based on James Carville and Thornton *isn't playing him*. In Lovecraftian terms, the stars were right for a sleazy bald guy to actually *be portrayed by a sleazy bald guy*, and may not be again until the Great Old Ones return (at which point, Carville will probably be busy repaying the infernal debts he's incurred).

Though I will say, if they'd kept Clooney, it would've given Candy's sleazy overtures towards Bodine a whole new dimension.

Our Brand is Crisis isn't really that bad, in spite of what you've probably heard. Bullock — "white savior" baggage aside —  is pretty enjoyable. Is she believable as someone constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Not entirely, but she manages to blend borderline instability with ruthlessness fairly well. Almeida is also notable as the pragmatically assholish Castillo.

It's also refreshing to see, or rather *not* to see the movie devolve into Miss Bodine Goes to Washington. Jane knows (or at least suspects) Castillo will return to his old ways of kowtowing to Western financial elites (in this case, the IMF) in direct contradiction of his campaign promises, but she has a job to do, her idealistic campaign volunteer (Reynaldo Pacheco) be damned. Green's attempts to juxtapose the seriousness of this election to the average Bolivian with the Americans' more mercenary sensibilities are hit or miss. Bodine is conflicted by the course the election takes, despite her instrumental role, while the attitude of her co-worked is often played for laughs.

But it's simplistic. This is remedial political satire, at best. Green's problem, if you want to call it that, stems from his 'jack of all trades, master of none' approach. As a director of everything from early career mumblecore to stoner comedies to straight drama, he hasn't stayed with one genre long enough to truly get the feel for it. OBIC offers many opportunities for mockery (almost by definition, being a movie about politics), but Green only scratches the surface, shifting from conventional comedy to rudimentary civics commentary without ever committing to either.

This all speaks to a larger problem with mainstream Hollywood political movies, which often opt for the aforementioned feel-good outcome. Our Brand is Crisis avoids that pitfall, at least. The end result is still worth a look, though probably not until you've seen better examples (say this, or this), including Boynton's original documentary itself.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar