Mark Reviews Movies

Our Brand Is Crisis


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Reynaldo Pacheco, Zoe Kazan, Dominic Flores, Louis Arcella

MPAA Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 10/30/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 29, 2015

Our Brand Is Crisis is another in a long line of movies to look at the barely-hidden underbelly of politics and reveal the lies, games, and corruption that reside there. Unintentionally, the movie mainly assures us that it is now acceptable to feel jaded about movies that exist solely to express feelings of cynicism about politics. The political game can be deceitful and manipulative. Politicians can be untrustworthy and duplicitous. We get it. We've gotten it for a while.

This movie ("suggested" by the 2005 documentary of the same name by Rachel Boynton) transplants the tradition of cynicism about the political process in the United States to Bolivia, where two campaigns in a presidential election are spearheaded by American strategists looking to make some easy money. The premise holds promise. Consider the opportunity to explore the cultural, political, and governmental similarities and differences between an election in the United States and one in Bolivia. Consider the actual implications of citizens from one country orchestrating the future of another without actually having anything at stake.

Consider these and other things of any real significance. Then ignore them, because that's what the screenplay by Peter Straughan does.

Admittedly, that distance from the actual concerns of the people of this country and the ramifications of outside influence on a country's electoral process is partially the point. These American characters come in like a whirlwind, spewing polling data and encouraging their candidate to behave in a certain way and finding certain words or ideas that resonate with voters. They don't need to know the context of the myriad of issues plaguing Bolivia. They just need to exploit those issues. They're here to do their job, and their job is get their candidate to win. Nothing else matters.

The movie, though, never adequately explains why these issues are vital. In the end, it feels as if the movie only offers them lip service as a way to arrive at the generic observation that politics are an unwinnable game for the people who are supposed to be served by them.

The central character here is Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a recovering alcoholic and political strategist who has retired after a string of losses. Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) convince "Calamity" Jane to join the campaign team for Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), a sitting senator and former president of Bolivia who is far behind in the polls. Jane only agrees after Nell informs Jane that her old rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who ran the campaigns to which she lost, is running the campaign of the main opposition.

Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella), a relatively young candidate promising hope and change, is currently leading a crowded field. Jane decides that Castillo's strategy should be to hammer home the notion that Bolivia is in crisis—whatever that crisis may be doesn't matter—and needs a tough, conservative leader to change the tide.

What follows is a series of the usual campaign tricks. It's broad comedy that believes it's more than that, simply because the fate of a nation is at stake. The tactics here range from devious to juvenile. Jane convinces Castillo to go negative by faking a negative ad campaign against him. There's an actual car chase between the two campaign buses, which culminates in Jane mooning the opposition. The ads, planned by the pronunciation-challenged Buckley (Scoot McNairy), are cheap and blatantly manipulative. Nell knows people in places of power who can sway popular opinion about an opponent, and the mysterious LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan) is an expert in digging up dirt. Director David Gordon Green never quite gives these scenarios the comic propulsion they require.

The areas in which the movie achieves some insight are mostly underplayed. There's a clever bit of character development involving Jane. She has given up drinking and smoking since her retirement, but almost as soon as she's back in the game, she returns to her old habits. The implication that politics is as much an addiction as her other vices is intriguing, but along with the suggestion that Jane is more cutthroat than anyone imagines, it is also never explored. Also, the scenes between Jane and Pat, which play out like school children taunting each other, feel authentic in their immaturity.

Meanwhile, there are protests in the background, focused on the disenfranchisement of the indigenous population and worries that the International Monetary Fund will return to do something bad in Bolivia. Specifics really aren't the screenplay's strong suit.

Castillo seems like a decent man, although there are "hints" that he might not be. He forgets the name of Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), an idealistic young campaign volunteer who believes in the candidate, and Pat suggests that Castillo's first presidential stint included the killings of those who opposed him. Subtlety is also not the screenplay's strongest asset.

The distance from reality keeps us from fully embracing the movie's ultimate lesson, which needs to acknowledge and appreciate that the rumblings of discontent we've heard intermittently throughout the movie are important. Our Brand Is Crisis wants to assert idealism in the face of its disillusionment. That final assertion is even hollower than the skepticism that precedes it.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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