Billy Bob Thornton and Sandra Bullock play battling political consultants in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”

Sandra Bullock winning in ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’

The title of the new movie “Our Brand Is Crisis” may be a mouthful, but it’s a simple enough concept: in this day and age, political campaigns are not about politics, or people, but about advertising.

Based loosely on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name, this 2015 movie turns a Bolivian election into a media battle.

Hardened political consultant “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a fictional character, is called out of retirement to help elect (fictionalized) former president Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who is lagging in the polls.

The current challenger (Louis Arcella), and leader in the polls, is under the guidance of Jane’s arch enemy, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton); whether intentional or not, he’s the only one who resembles James Carville, the subject of the documentary.

Hell-bent on beating Candy, Jane makes the election personal, using all her best dirty tricks to make Candy’s candidate look like a monster, and to make her own monster look like a savior.

Director David Gordon Green, who made goofy comedies (“Pineapple Express”) and meditative dramas (“George Washington,” “Snow Angels”), brings all his skills to the table.

“Our Brand Is Crisis” moves in little segments, each depicting the next stage of the battle, ranging from town hall meetings to the decision whether to “go negative.”

Green gets in zippy moments of humor, but also vividly captures spaces. The rooms, streets and auditoriums all feel lived-in and organic.

Likewise, the other members of Jane’s team, played by Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan, feel like genuine, living characters who existed before the story began.

But it’s Bullock, one of our last genuine movie stars, who holds it all together with her cunning performance. Her Jane carries a lifetime of pain and cynicism and myriad emotional scars, but she still feels the thrill of the fight. She mixes the two extremes in powerful, appealing ways.

If the movie has a failing, it’s in the blurred line between documentary and fiction. Even though it’s set in a real country and based on a real election (though the candidates’ names are changed), the film’s primary story arc deals with a white American, and that may seem disingenuous (especially given Jane’s last-minute career adjustment).

However, as the modern political satire it is, “Our Brand Is Crisis” appealingly blends character, cynicism and laughs. It could even help put into perspective our own, current, crazed political circus.


REVIEW
Our Brand Is Crisis

Three stars
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy
Written by: Peter Straughan
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Rated R
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

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