‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ review: Sandra Bullock delivers wry election drama

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ review: Sandra Bullock delivers wry election drama.

The Sandra Bullock-starring “Our Brand Is Crisis,” is an acidic, biting political satire that asserts the notion that marketing has taken over the democratic process.Sandra Bullock stars as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a ruthless but retired political strategist and tactician – the polite translation of spin doctor — who, when the film opens, has had some sort of meltdown and has downshifted, now living a secluded life in a log cabin.

Inspired by the 2005 documentary of the same name in which Bolivian presidential candidates hired Americans like James Carville to advise them on the art of winning, Clooney’s first step was to change all the names and fictionalize it.When scenes call for her to dial back on the intensity or when director David Gordon Green puts the spotlight on other characters, the picture loses focus and drifts.Just adding to the many, many reasons we’re obsessed with everything Bullock does (and wears!). “Right now Louis must be it”, she said of her 5-year-old son. Well-known for her victories working for underdogs, she’s called on for the proverbial One Last Job – to run the campaign of Castillo, played by Joaquim de Almeida, a former president who is a presidential candidate but is running fifth in the polls in the upcoming 2002 national election in Bolivia. More important, for a film he’d spent years developing as a starring vehicle for himself, was deciding to let his pal and recent “Gravity” co-star Sandra Bullock take over the leading role.

Jane is a ideal role for Bullock’s everywoman persona – she plays her as a bit of an idiot savant, rumpled, constantly clutching a half-eaten bag of salty snacks, outfitted in her ever present trench coat and glasses. Will this filmmaker and actor with politically themed films (“The Monuments Men,” “Michael Clayton,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana”) and who has been active in human rights causes ever run for office? “I commend people who go into public service — it’s a horrible way to get elected.

The two rekindle her passion (or is it an addiction) to the game and bring her onboard to lead the team behind Castillo, in spite of him lagging at number four or five in the race. Candy, whose behavior and accomplishments contributed to her breakdown, is a fictional character clearly inspired by real-life political operative James Carville, who was in fact connected to the real-life campaign.

It’s more polarized now than any time arguably since the Civil War in many ways, and people will argue over things they believe in that happened six years ago. “No,” he concluded, “I don’t want to be in politics. What actually gets Jane on the plane to Bolivia is the chance to square off with her longtime sworn nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s been enlisted by the competition. There is no Carville equivalent per se, as Bullock’s character, Jane Bodine, operates as a gun for hire employed by a consultant team that doesn’t seem to have a leader, a significant flaw that contributes to the unfocused feeling. The fictionalized screenplay by Peter Straughn about political campaigning, dirty tricks, and meddling in foreign elections, was “suggested by” the identically titled 2006 documentary by Rachel Boynton, and both are based on the real-life 2002 Bolivian presidential election, in which American political strategies and techniques were employed.

Billy Bob Thornton, playing a rival operative working for an opposition candidate, has a lean and hungry Carvillelike look — gimlet-eyed, head shaved bald. She spouts Sun Tzu and Machiavelli quotes at random, but she’s clear-eyed and not a sycophant, which allows her to see through the mess of Castillo’s campaign. Bullock’s lead role was originally intended for George Clooney – the counterpart real-life consultant was male — who then became one of the film’s producers and offered the switched-to-female role to his Gravity co-star, who also served as an executive producer.

All this does, though, is build her up to be the pragmatic victor her success needs. “[Sandra] might say that she’s not attracted to me, but she calls me every night, at three in the morning, drunk, ‘Hey George, what you doing?’” he joked in 2013 when they were both single, before he married Amal. Bullock is likable as the clumsy, quote-happy, revenge-and-redemption-seeking lead despite sometimes acting despicably, and her penchant for physical comedy gets a full, funny airing – whether it should or not. Green injects him into the story at regular intervals to remind Jane of her failings (they’ve faced off in prior campaigns and his candidates have always beaten hers), and to goad her into following her impulses to do whatever it takes to win, principles be damned. Castillo’s campaign starts to build steam, and his whole election appears to swing on a promise of an International Monetary Fund referendum. “It’s very well written, and when you have a cat like David (Green) it’s better. And Thornton adds another scoundrel to his personal rogues’ gallery in the film’s best scenes, which are those in which Bullock and Thornton share the screen and indulge in screwball banter that’s sharp and fun to hear.

When she launches all-out war on their competition, it’s personal more than anything else – she just wants to beat Pat Candy The team, and the film, harbor no starry-eyed belief in Castillo as a candidate – he’s basically the Donald Trump of Bolivia, a billionaire who’s been president once before. After a listless start, the picture comes alive when Jane, her competitive juices flowing, delivers a wow of a speech to her client and associates, harshly defining the campaign’s many weakness and lasering in on a path to victory. And then Sandy had read it and she’s like, ‘God there’s no roles like this for us!’ And I thought let’s completely change it, let’s make her a woman”. Which basically amounts to heavily scripting the candidate’s every utterance to emphasize that Bolivia is facing an economic crisis and only a flawed fighter (he lacks people skills) can overcome the difficulties.

But with all other characters insubstantially drawn and with the theme of arrogant outsiders tinkering with a Latin nation’s political processes (the consultants don’t even speak Spanish) handled with unimaginative imprecision, “Crisis” squanders its intriguing premise. That dark underbelly adds depth and dimension to the ironic humor of “Our Brand Is Crisis.” The team laughs, drinks, and pranks each other to keep their own consciences at bay. This is undermined in the eleventh hour by an implausible change of heart that feels tacked on to please focus groups and give the film a Hollywood ending.

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