A battle-hardened American political consultant is sent to help re-elect a controversial president in Bolivia, where she must compete with a long-term rival working for another candidate.
A heavily fictionalised film based on the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections, ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ is an enjoyable political drama focusing on the American consultants that got involved in the campaign for rival candidates. Your enjoyment of this film is likely to depend on how much you enjoy watching bad people go up against other bad people to try and get bad people elected to government. Fortunately for me, that particularly nasty underbelly of the political spectrum holds a lot of interest for me, and ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ is great at getting into what happens behind the scenes of a political campaign. The edge that the film has is that this is no US or British political campaign – this is Bolivia, a vastly different country both culturally and politically, and our American protagonist, Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is as much a fish out of water as the viewer is. The film’s director David Gordon Green is a good filmmaker with as many bad films in his back catalogue as good ones – this is one of the good ones but it isn’t entirely satisfying.
Sandra Bullock is excellent in the lead role, showcasing her many talents in both comedic and dramatic settings and elevating the material. Her character could be annoying or too much of a caricature in lesser hands but Bullock is as comfortable shouting down a tough talking presidential candidate as she is displaying outbursts of perfectly timed physical comedy and she carries the film. Green has amassed a strong supporting cast but for the most part they are underserved, with Billy Bob Thornton’s rival campaign manager feeling like too much of a moustache twirling villain to really take seriously, even if his southern drawl and sleazy charisma is always entertaining. The candidate Jane is representing is Pedro Castillo (a fictionalised version of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada), an unpopular former president who is running again, but lagging behind severely in the polls. Played by Joaquim de Almeida (known to me and to many as the terrific ‘24‘ villain Ramon Salazar), he chews the scenery well and I enjoyed the scenes where he allows his angry demeanour to come to fore.
The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the different tactics used to gain the upper hand in the campaign, at its funniest when it focuses on Jane’s attempts to get the better of her nemesis and rival campaign manager Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), and at its weakest when it tries to get overly sentimental towards the end in a film that operated with a lighter touch to that point. This leads to a gradual move away from sharp and interesting political satire to focusing too much on the comedy, before taking a left turn with a conclusion of forced sentiment.
**SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING FOLLOW**
The ending doesn’t feel earned because there’s no indication that Jane is any different or softer than her colleagues or campaign rivals, and it feels false to use a few encounters with a nice local kid to sell to the viewer that she’d suddenly come to the realisation that helping one more bad man to get elected has finally made her change. I’d initially thought this ending was based on the real events, but discovering it wasn’t only makes it feel even more contrived.
Overall, ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ is an enjoyable political satire with a strong lead performance from Sandra Bullock, but it struggles to find the right tone and several narrative missteps along the way make this an uneven, if entertaining movie.
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Joaquim de Almeida, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd, Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan and Reynaldo Pacheco