Movies

'Our Brand Is Crisis'

Snit-raddled and recovering from a meltdown, Sandra Bullock's Jane
is literally in the wilderness.
TOLD YOU SO: In 'Our Brand Is Crisis,' Sandra Bullock can be seen 'changing from someone who we sympathize with, right or wrong, to someone who is always right, no matter how crazy she gets.'

Snit-raddled and recovering from a meltdown, Sandra Bullock's Jane is literally in the wilderness.

Over the titles we hear a political campaign ad-style montage of news readers and unidentified voices, speaking about her epic failure. Jane has lost the election she was shepherding, and her consolation prize was a stint in Betty Ford. Today she works a pottery wheel in her mountain, making Mohawk-style medicine bowls. Tomorrow, it's off to the Andes.

Even the appeal of menopausal ceramics is not strong enough to allow Jane to muster an argument against her former colleague Nell (Ann Dowd), who has driven up to recruit her for a job as a consultant in a Bolivian election: "You're a fighter," Nell tells Jane. A real fighter would have fought against the mingy script of David Gordon Green's Our Brand is Crisis.

This is an awkwardly fictionalized version of a very good 2005 documentary about a neo-liberal political rout in Bolivia. The original Rachel Boynton film concerns the 2002 election campaign of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada—"Goni" for short, who was the IMF's candidate in all but name, a comebacker who'd had a stint as president in the 1990s. The chances of this uninspiring candidate were poor, but he had the marketing acumen of former Clinton wizard James Carville and his firm Greenberg Carville Shrum. The gang successfully turned Goni's unappetizing persona into votes. What's missing in this shoddy fictionalization is the fact that the Norte Americano meddling eventually provoked a populist uproar leading to the victory of the first native-Bolivian president, socialist Evo Morales.

Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida as Castillo plays the Goni figure, good as an effete blank with little political relevance. "Calamity Jane," as Bullock's character is nicknamed, arrives, unleashing an arsenal of well-worn Sun Tzu quotes, along with her staffers—Ben (debonair Anthony Mackie), Buckley (aggrieved WASP Scoot McNairy), and the only one of the lot who can speak Spanish very well, LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan, whose determination perks up the film a little).

Jane is given one particular obstacle—the arrival of the bald-headed vulgarian, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), working for a rival presidential candidate. What follows is like a romantic comedy without the payoff, as the two eyeball each other.

Thornton, reprising and doubling down on his slurring Carville in Primary Colors (1998), keeps sexually harassing Jane and describing himself as "Mephistophelean." If only. The devil keeps his secrets to himself; Pat keeps announcing his aims and strategies. The contest between Jane and Pat gets fratty, including a bus race on a mountain road in which the loser gets mooned, and a hotel room-trashing with the help of three street kids and Jane's assistant Eduardo.

This is a movie about Bolivia with few Bolivians in it—Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco) tries to give the sense of what's at stake for his nation. He is made for the description "dewey-eyed": the lad who worships Castillo ever since he was a child.

Shot in a way to suggest blown up 16mm, the movie boasts extensive La Paz locations—but you'd learn more about what happened to Bolivia if you rewatched the Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Following the brave, solitary and larger-than-life acting in Gravity, Bullock is heading into drabber roles, both here and in Secret in Their Eyes. You can't fight aging by taking roles in which you act like a bored, agro teenager, in movies where the comedy highlight is a llama getting squashed. Bullock is in a dangerous phase as an actress, as she shifts into parts with an emphasis on dispirited haircuts, auras of tragedy and frequent outbursts. Like late-period Barbra Streisand, Bullock is changing from someone who we sympathize with, right or wrong, to someone who is always right, no matter how crazy she gets.

This morose yet juvenile comedy has a moral, intoned by Bullock: "If voting could change anything, it would be illegal." Tell it to Evo Morales. Our Brand is Crisis sends you home with this bumper sticker-sized sentiment. The U.S. national election of 2000 ought to have demonstrated its stupidity, but of course that was 15 long years ago.

Our Brand Is Crisis

R; 107 Mins.


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