When trying to rally the troops, political strategist Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is just as likely to quote Machiavelli as Warren Beatty.
Whatever gets the point across is fine with the woman who comes out of retirement and seclusion to join the campaign for an unpopular presidential candidate in Bolivia in the satirical “Our Brand Is Crisis.” She hopes to elect him — is being paid to do just that — but really wants to crush the smug American political consultant Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) working for a rival.
Two decades ago in “The War Room,” Bill Clinton’s campaign staffers preached “It’s the economy, stupid!” After Jane’s candidate, Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), punches a man who hit him in the face with raw eggs, Jane spins the fisticuffs. She positions her hopeful as the only fighter who can save Bolivia. “This is no longer an election, this is a crisis … and our brand is crisis.”
Is there anyone out there who still thinks elections are never subjected to dirty tricks or skulduggery or simply intense rivalries? Who are surprised when candidates say one thing and do another once the votes are counted? In this case, however, there is at least one wide-eyed idealistic local, a stand-in for the public’s dwindling innocence, who truly believes Castillo will put the country on the right path.
“Our Brand Is Crisis” is based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name. Variety described it as a “fascinating docu on the Bolivian presidential campaign of Gonzales Sanchez de Lozada (aka Goni), an unpopular candidate whose run for office was flamboyantly stage-managed by the U.S. spin team of James Carville and company.”
Much of “Our Brand” is played for laughs, including Jane’s early altitude sickness, opponents pranking one another and the reckless, rowdy sight of competing campaign buses racing along narrow roads.
The movie turns serious, however, when players face — or dodge — the consequences of their actions and that was the point where the story lost me. That home stretch may be admirable and probably the reason for making the movie but it just didn’t seem believable for one key character.
For too long, the stakes play second fiddle to the strategists and even the candidates remain too elusive to make the audience care as much as it should. Mr. Thornton is a veritable James Carville doppleganger, but cooler in temperament and tone, while a long-haired, blonder Ms. Bullock sells Jane’s ability to spin, tweak, execute underhanded moves and live up to her nickname of Calamity in raucous or unexpected ways.
No matter what these fictional hired guns do, though, it’s hard to compete with the real world where one candidate reveals he tried to stab a classmate (and others then accuse him of lying) and another insults all comers along with the press. You couldn’t make that stuff up because no one would believe it, here or in Bolivia.