Review: ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’
BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Political junkies are the kind of folks who not only like sausage, they enjoy watching it get made. The rest of us fret about the sheer craziness of whomever we disagree with, and then cheerfully choose between the d-bag or the a-hole running for office.
‘OUR BRAND IS CRISIS’
Democracy ain’t perfect, but there’s no better system. Deal with it.
And then there are the people who work in the political salt mines, using all their brainpower, street smarts and dwindling good cheer to get their candidate elected. They can be very smart people, and still have no clue how life works.
These drab worker bees are the main characters in “Our Brand Is Crisis.” A kind of Bolivian retelling of Robert Redford’s “The Candidate,” it involves a fractious South American political election. Things have gotten so bad that American political operatives, smelling the blood money, have swooped down to manage the campaigns.
Naturally, being Americans, the campaigns become about them instead of about the candidates and platforms.
The film is a remake of a documentary of the same title, about the same subject. Only the names have been changed — to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Sandra Bullock is “Calamity Jane” Bodine, a notorious political operative, now retired after losing a campaign. The Bolivians come to recruit her as if she’s James Bond hiding out in a remote mountain fastness. Flown to Bolivia, South America’s highest country, she’s so literally out of her element that she has to drag around an oxygen bottle.
Worse, her candidate is a former president, a slimy creature consumed with ennui and misplaced hubris. He’s in something like ninth place. Go ahead and make your Jeb Bush comparisons.
She decides that the winning strategy is to invent a crisis. It becomes their brand. It’s dishonest, but it works. But also, because it’s dishonest, what is left of Bodine’s moral center begins to dissolve.
There’s some excellent humor here and there involving political chicanery, about the opposing teams tricking each other. Has nothing to do with democracy, and everything to do with marketing. “Our Brand Is Crisis,” though, has no moral center of its own and is surprising soft-edged.
Bullock’s role is one of the best written for a woman in years — complicated, tough, fierce, humbling — and yet it falls flat in this doughy mess. Bullock is a triumph of star power over flaccid noodling.
Billy Bob Thornton is on board, doing an entirely predictable impersonation of James Carville. But the other great actor here is Joaquin de Almeida as Bullock’s candidate. He has a roiling core of self-loathing that’s both amusing and terrifying — one we’ve seen too often, not in the theater, but at the ballot box.