Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: Our Brand is Crisis

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
Based upon the 2005 documentary of the same name, David Gordon Green's "Our Brand is Crisis" is an inside look at how a political campaign works, in this case one in Bolivia in which a handful of American campaign managers are involved.

While the documentary followed Greenberg Carville Shrum's assistance in getting Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada elected, Green's film follows the fictional exploits of one Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) and her game of one-upmanship against Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a smarmy campaign operative who relishes in making Jane uncomfortable. The two have a history involving several campaigns lost by Jane and a leaked story that caused a young woman to commit suicide.

On the one hand, while Green's film doesn't divulge anything most of us already don't know - that is, how campaigns are about perception, rather than content - "Our Brand is Crisis" is a fast paced political drama featuring solid performances, good writing and more than a few genuinely funny moments.

Bodine has been called out of a self imposed seclusion by other members of the team - which includes Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd and Scoot McNairy - attempting to get Castillo, a Bolivian senator and former president who was not particularly popular, re-elected. Bullock's character displays early on that she's both a pragmatist and a cynic and her particular brand of political mudslinging is effective, but obviously ethically questionable.

Candy's tactics are just as - if not more - despicable and the film benefits from the two characters attempting to outdo one another, including a particularly memorable sequence during which Bodine tricks Candy into feeding his candidate a line that he thinks is from Goethe, but is actually from someone else.

However, the picture is not without its problems, the most obvious being that its script depicts the people of Bolivia as possessing easily malleable minds that are, at most times, under the control of the Americans manipulating them. I'm not sure Green and the film's screenwriters intended for the story to play out this way, but it does.

I don't think I'm being snobbish by agreeing that, yes, a large number of voters in any nation at any time do not often vote in their best interest and focus on attributes of a candidate that have nothing to do with how well they would govern their nation. On the other hand, "Our Brand is Crisis" occasionally creates the unfortunate portrayal of some crafty Americans talking down to third world denizens who can't think for themselves.

Then again, the film does not portray said crafty Americans in the greatest of lights either and by the end of the film, it's hard to find anyone - other than the Bolivians who are righteously outraged at being sold out by their leaders - with whom to sympathize.

For the past decade and a half, Green has taken on everything from Malickian-style dramas ("All the Real Girls" and "George Washington") to raunchy comedies (the unfortunate "Your Highness") and heavier fare ("Joe" and "Snow Angels"). "Our Brand is Crisis" is the first time he has ventured into what could be called, for lack of a better phrase, advocacy films. It's far from perfect, but it's a well-made and humorous inside-baseball look at political campaigns that works more often than doesn't.

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