A surly political chess match, ‘Our Brand is Crisis’

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Ron-and-Leigh-Martel

We’re a full year away from our next Presidential election and, already, many have had their fill with the anger, insincerity and false promises. But, for those hungry for more, “Our Brand is Crisis” will fix you right up. Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton face off in a most cynical look at almost every element of our traditional election process.

This movie is a fictionalized version of the 2005 documentary, where Bolivian politician Pedro Gallo hired James Carville’s political consulting firm to help him win the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Apparently, Bolivia experienced the democratic process in all its glory, as “perfected” by Americans over the past 200-plus years.

Directed by David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) with a provocative screenplay by Peter Staughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), we witness almost every trick in the book, and then some. Although it’s not always pleasant seeing how the sausage is made, there are so many parallels to our current election and debate process that are simultaneously disgusting, disturbing and laughable. Mostly, it hurts, because the parallel is too real.

Armchair political wonks will revel in the sharp and intelligent dialogue of this unfriendly chess match. It begins when political operatives Ben and Neil (Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd) recruit veteran strategist Calamity Jane Bodine (Bullock) to help Senator Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) win an election where he is badly trailing in the polls.

Jane is one of the best in the business, but is deeply flawed. She is a recovering alcoholic who struggles with mental illness and has become a virtual recluse. Reluctant to get back on that horse, Ben and Neil reveal that the opposition is led by her longtime political nemesis, the ruthless Pat Candy (Thornton).

Candy explains that when former Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was told, “Every intelligent person will be voting for you,” he responded, “That’s not enough, I need a majority to win.” With only 90 days until Election Day, Jane’s behind-the-scenes manipulations must begin immediately.

Naturally, at every turn, audience members of all political persuasions will suspect that such callous tactics are being used against their favorite candidates. And they’d all probably be right. Nobody likes being misled or tricked, but political truth is relative; which is why some politicians will say anything it takes to win.

The lead role was originally written for a male, but the production company had no issue making the change for Bullock’s casting. As Jane, Sandy is serious, funny and seriously funny as she incites fear and anger in her voting public, “People are interested in political battles the way they are a car race. They watch not necessarily to see who wins, but who crashes and who goes up in flames.” Jane also carries a bucket of rocket fuel.

In the midst of the back-room king-making, there are some intriguing human-interest stories. In one scene, Jane orders her bus driver to overtake her opponent’s bus on a dangerous mountain road. It shows that, for some, a race has no regard to who gets hurt. Jane believes if you are on the defense, you’re losing; if attacking, you’re winning. Candy tells Jane, “Fight with monsters too long, you become a monster”

“Our Brand is Crisis” is 107 minutes and rated R for language and sexual references. This is the first Hollywood movie partially filmed in Bolivia, which is a world of extremes, politically, geologically and economically. Their voters react similarly as Americans to such Machiavellian tactics. However, after that election, the documentary and now this movie, we understand Bolivia just might build a large wall to keep us out.

Bullock is at the top of her game, even if only a limited audience will entertain this topic. This political satire is in some ways a tragedy. Their outlandish behavior is surpassed only by the reckless behavior of so many campaigns. Maybe we should better appreciate candidates with a more positive message even if a favorite political line is “Once you fake sincerity, the rest is easy.”

Ron’s Rating: B   Leigh’s Rating: D

 

 

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Ron & Leigh Martel