What a crisis11/4/2015
“Our Brand is Crisis” is based on the 2005 documentary of the same name by director Rachel Boynton. It is the fictional account of American consultants and their morally ambivalent involvement in a Bolivian presidential election. Retired American campaign strategist, “Calamity” Jane Bodine — played exquisitely by Sandra Bullock — is hired 90 days before the election by the unpopular conservative Bolivian presidential candidate, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) to reinvigorate his campaign and help him win.
Bodine’s team includes Ben (Anthony Mackie), Nell (Ann Dowd) and LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan), a young woman with a knack for digging into the backgrounds of political candidates. Helped out by an idealistic young local volunteer named Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco), the team is trying to bring down the campaign’s front-runner, leftist candidate Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella), who is being managed by another American-for-hire, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), to whom Bodine has lost the last few campaigns that she ran.
Bullock shines as Bodine, exuding confidence with every decision and command. Even in her defeats she smiles, because politics is a game to be won, and she learns after every loss. Bodine’s antagonist, Candy, works for the leading candidate and goads her every step of the way. A meeting behind the scenes (literally, behind the curtain) perfectly captures what this election is about to these two individuals: ego. Each seems to be listening to the debate happening on the other side of the partition only to have it revealed that neither speak or understand Spanish.
And this is how these two characters view this election. It’s not about showing who these candidates are and what they believe, it’s about presenting them in a way that connects with the people. Bodine’s team jumps on the buzzword “crisis” and immediately presents this election and a battle for the well being of Bolivia. It’s not an election so much as it’s a war.
Bodine wasn’t lured out of retirement because of money or glory. Her reason was personal — to beat Candy. Using her knowledge of his tactics and her experience in politics, she comes up with a combination of strategies and dirty tricks that result in a Castillo climb in the polls. Meanwhile, Candy is trying to get inside Bodine’s head to rattle her and is able to make sure that some of her tactics backfire. The ensuing battle between the two campaigns is desperate, messy and personal.
It’s hard to talk about much else besides the scenes between Bullock and Thornton. Their chemistry and rivalry is palpable, and it’s clear there’s something between the two that explains their combative behavior; it’s not just this campaign, it’s something more.
If you find yourself rooting for Bodine, that’s to be expected. Who could possibly root against Bullock? However, this isn’t about picking sides in this petty rivalry; the fate of Bolivia is at stake. Have you paid attention to either politician’s platform? Have you been reading the closed caption? Did you notice that not every speech was translated? We become a part of the political system by being distracted by the inconsequential spats and not paying attention to what’s going on. As riots ensue and change is demanded by Bolivians, the Americans can be heard discussing the dryness of their skin. Once the job is done, they go home, never having to worry about the country they irrefutably affected.
“Our Brand is Crisis” is limited by the storytelling though saved by the ensemble cast. This dark comedy demonstrates the political game in unique and telling ways. What if politics are as simple as marketing? But like marketing — and whoever persuaded the studios to create a fictionalized version of a documentary from a decade ago — this movie tries to convince movie-goers that it’s something they need, when in reality you ought to check out the source material. CV