Entertainment

‘Our Brand is Crisis’ has a ‘duh’ quality

What It’s About

Oh, what cynics we have become about political elections. “Our Brand Is Crisis” shows the inner workings of down-and-dirty campaigning by American strategists in Bolivia.

Instead of being something fresh and different, the film has a jaded “Duh” quality. Politics without scruples? We expect it. While it is an interesting subject, this comedy-drama hybrid isn’t as edgy as “Wag the Dog” or as eye-opening as “The Candidate.”

Maybe in the hands of a pundit like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, it could have crackled, but Peter Straughan’s screenplay is not insightful, overall, although it does feature several smart scenes of snappy repartee.

Instead, it works best as a character study of the rival players involved, with sharp performances by Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, both taking pages from the James Carville method for political posturing. They play off each other’s strengths well.

Bullock is “Calamity Jane’ Bodine, a high-strung but savvy operative who must be lured back from a remote cabin where she makes pottery and eschews smoking and drinking. When she gets back in the game, it takes a while to find her mojo, but when she does, look out. She is hurling rapid-fire orders at a staid ex-president who badly wants back in the game.

Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) has an uphill battle against a more appealing candidate, who is coached by smooth-talking, Southern-fried Thornton, playing a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, Pat Candy. He has pounced on Jane before, and uses psychological tactics to get under her skin.

This fictionalized account of Americans invading a poor South American country is actually inspired by a documentary of the same name by Rachel Boynton. In 2002, Carville’s firm, Greenberg Carville Shrum, flew a team to LaPaz to help re-elect an unpopular candidate.

Performances

As amusing as Bullock and Thornton are zestfully butting heads, there is considerable heft in the supporting cast too. Ann Dowd (“Compliance”), Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”), Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) and Scoot McNairy (“Argo”), are shrewd members of the hired political assault team.

A sweet, soulful turn by Reynaldo Pacheco as Eddie, an idealistic Bolivian who believes in Castillo, gives the film a late-inning sentimental sheen. Strong work by de Almeida as the baffled candidate helps with cultural understanding of the country’s issues and political climate.

What Works

Director David Gordon Green, who exhibited much promise in his early career with “All the Real Girls” and “Undertow,” briskly keeps the action moving, as it could have been bogged down in ideology. It’s a broader canvas than he has handled before, and to his credit, he depicts the issues crucial to the people.

What Doesn’t Work

A swelling, grandiose music score, along with stretching out the ending, does not punctuate this story satisfactorily. It seemed like something was missing to connect the dots at the conclusion.

This film had elements to make it a much better work than it turned out to be. But what it says about the current state of politics is more tragic than comical.

3 stars out of 4

  • Director: David Gordon Green
  • Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Ann Dowd, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Joaquim de Almeida, Reynaldo Pacheco
  • Rated: R for language including some sexual references.
  • Length: 1:47
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