Loosely inspired by the Rachel Boynton documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis takes a darkly comedic stare at the world of politics. It isn’t so much about the voting, debates or even the politicians. Our Brand Is Crisis is about arguably the most vital part of being a politician; the campaign.
When a Bolivian presidential candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) falls significantly behind in the polls, his American campaign team pulls out an old master of the game; “Calamity” Jane (Sandra Bullock). With a history of winners, losers, trouble and booze, Jane has been sitting out all things politics, but is drawn back when an old nemesis (Billy Bob Thorton) is revealed to be backing the frontrunner. So it’s off to Bolivia for fresh spin, deceit and more of that booze.
Our Brand Is Crisis is directed by David Gordon Green (Joe, George Washington) and written by Peter Straughan (Frank), but it really feels like a product of its producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. The film fits right into the mindset of past productions of theirs like Argo, The Ides of March and The Men Who Stare at Goats, the last of which involved Straughan. This is lightly political, easy to digest and with just enough of a brain to feel like more than fluff. Those expecting proper insight into the inner working of Bolivian society or governing need look elsewhere. We get that they have alpacas and citizens of varying educations levels, along with a slight reluctance to globalization. That is the extent of the homework.
What the movie is more interested in is the deviousness of the men and women behind those in charge. This really is Bullock’s show and she brings the proper levels of movie-stardom that prove why she’s been a major player for two decades. As Jane, Bullock is belligerent and inspiring. The smirks and sneaky eyes she gives while giving commands, often against her client’s requests, reveal layers of arrogant contempt. Bullock has played thorny and erratic before, but this is probably the best she has been at, and is easily in the top-tier of a career that is surprisingly light in quality work.
The ensemble around her is well played, with Ann Dowd, Almeida and Thorton getting the best of their limited screen-time. Dowd is the one drawing Jane back into the fire; warm if slyly underhanded. Almeida’s Castillo is a man willing to shape his persona to what fits a victory, with the rare instances of pushback allowing for nicely conveyed, quiet anger. Thorton is a bit hammier, a cocky cad that flirts with Bullock and mocks her past mistakes, while knowing her nastiest misdeeds.
For the majority of its running time, Our Brand Is Crisis avoids sentimentality. We get a venture into the poorer areas of Bolivia and those impacted most by the election, but it doesn’t take center stage or get cloying. That is until the end, where the movie suddenly wants its heart to beat louder without taking the time to make it matter. It’s an awkward stumble as the characters are unexpectedly and unbelievably naïve about the corruption they embark with daily. Too bad, since what came before it was enjoyable. Light, but enjoyable.