In Our Brand Is Crisis, Sandra Bullock stars as damaged political strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who is prodded out of retirement to take over a struggling presidential campaign in Bolivia. Her motive has nothing to do with the candidate, out-of-touch and arrogant former head of state Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who is 28 points behind in the polls. No, Bodine doesn’t care what Castillo stands for or whether he is the best person for the job. Her motive isn’t political; it’s personal. She hops on a plane to Bolivia for only one reason -- to defeat strategist Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a Mephistophelean rival working for the opposition. Jane has gone up against Candy in elections “three or four times,” she laments, and lost “three or four times.” She intends for that losing streak to end in Bolivia.
But before Jane can whip Castillo’s campaign into shape, she must first deal with a debilitating case of altitude sickness that requires her to continually drag around a bottle of oxygen. When she isn’t upchucking into trash cans or sucking O2 from a mask, she is sitting bleary-eyed on a sofa trying to shake the fog out of her head. It doesn’t help that once she meets Castillo in person she immediately labels him a loser and her trip a lost cause. But all that changes when Candy hires a local to smash an egg on Castillo’s head and the former prez punches the guy. The dustup energizes Jane and leads her to craft Castillo as a fighter for his people; a man who understands the imminent economic and political crisis Bolivia is facing. From there, Jane and Candy pull out the dirtiest tricks in their bags and enter into a greedy game of one-upmanship that will ultimately affect every Bolivian citizen.
Our Brand Is Crisis is a dark comedy about the shady shenanigans that are employed behind the scenes of many political campaigns, and it couldn’t be timelier, as it coexists with the circus-like atmosphere of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and screenwriter Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) mix broad comedy with deeply serious issues to mostly great effect, though the movie would benefit from a sharper satirical edge. But, ultimately, the film is a showcase for Bullock, and her finely tuned dramatic and comic skills. As the tough but fragile “Calamity” Jane, Bullock earns well-won laughs one moment doing a bit of physical comedy, like mooning a busload of campaign rivals, while the next she gut-punches you as she sinks into utter despair and immobility. Her give-and-takes with the devilish Thornton, who can do menacing calm better than anyone, are a hoot to watch, and the two are superbly supported by a talented ensemble that includes Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan. The movie also benefits from being shot in La Paz, Bolivia, and Puerto Rico. The authentic locales serve as a constant reminder that what is ultimately at stake in the election are people’s lives.
Our Brand Is Crisis is based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name that focused on Bolivia’s 2002 presidential election and strategist James Carville’s involvement. The lead role was originally written for a man. Thank heavens the filmmakers, including producer George Clooney, brought Bullock aboard and tailored the character to her strengths. It’s one of the best roles of her remarkable career. An Oscar nomination wouldn’t be out of the question. When it comes to crisis and comedy, nobody does it better than Bullock.
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- Released: 2015
- Rating: R
- Review: In Our Brand Is Crisis, Sandra Bullock stars as damaged political strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who is prodded out of retirement to take over a struggling presidential campaign in Bolivia. Her motive has nothing to do with the candidate, out-of-touch… (more)