David Gordon Green's Our Brand Is Crisis is a horror film wrapped in fast-talking political comedy. Watching Sandra Bullock, as ruthless campaign manager Jane, flog her uncharismatic candidate for Bolivia's next president, I snickered at her knowing quips. But then the film ends and the laughter fades. For two hours, we've liked Bullock and her team -- cheered their successes, even. Yet they are the world's boogeymen. And the nightmare is real.
Jane's character is inspired by real-life wonk James Carville, who flew to Bolivia in 2002 to elect Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada over his progressive opposition, Evo Morales. (That story was told in Rachel Boynton's 2005 doc of the same name -- Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan have made their version fictionalish.) If it's surprising that Carville, the grinning grandpa of American liberals, would fly south of the equator to sell a man who represents everything he shuns at home, that's the point. Jane cares nothing about the platform of Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), her candidate. She's in La Paz for two reasons: the paycheck, and the chance to defeat rival election genius Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
Thornton's Pat is a Carville clone. He's all skull and jaw and deep-fried accent, which he employs for foul attempts to rattle Jane's composure. The film's strongest impression is of her and Pat's furtive tribe of traveling ronin — mercenaries, really. Bolivia matters today, but tomorrow it's off to Israel. As for the Bolivians, they don't matter at all.
Green also has a weakness for seeing the locals as a gullible herd, but de Almeida's Castillo is a performance worthy of a supporting-actor campaign.