“Our Brand Is Crisis”: a movie of note in this political jousting time of The Donald versus everybody else. It’s a good reminder of the behind-the-scene chess matches of professional political handlers, spin doctors, and puppet masters.
Campaigns are showbiz, Oz the Great and Terrible, hair and makeup. All that glitters is not gold, but sometimes all hair and makeup is distinctly orange-tinted. As we’ve seen—that can give you an edge in the polls. Makes you want to be a fly on the wall in some of the current candidate-prepping sessions. Expect to see more orange hair in future presidential campaigns.
“Crisis” features a rock-solid Sandra Bullock performance, utilizing both her clown-level comedic talent, as well as her dramatic gravitas, and while the goings-on are soul-damage-level cynical, she anchors the movie in the idea that ultimately human beings have a true-North of hope and human-kindness.
Based on a 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton, Bullock plays “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a clean and sober, six-years-making-pottery-in-her-mountain-shack, former campaign strategist, who comes out of retirement for a high-noon showdown with her erstwhile ultra-unctuous nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
But not in the United States, no, they have—in the immortal words of Mike Tyson— “faded into Bolivian.” The Bolivian presidential election, that is.
Down Bolivia way, one Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) has fallen far behind front-runner candidate Rivera (Louis Arcella), so Castillo’s bought himself some hotshot American spin docs.
In addition to “Calamity” Jane, the rest of the consulting group consists of Washington-connected Nell (Ann Dowd), former “Free Tibet” do-gooder spin doc, Ben (Anthony Mackie), director of campaign commercials, Rich (Scoot McNairy), and lastly, whiz kid LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan), who Jane brings on to dig into the oppositions’ backgrounds like a class valedictorian, fresh-faced tapeworm.
Rolling Up Sleeves
Jane’s wiped out by jet lag and in need of an oxygen tank to deal with the elevation of La Paz, Bolivia, but she eventually re-energizes for a little scenery-chewing. She’s nicknamed “Calamity,” after all.
Billy Bob’s character throws the first punch by having someone publicly egg Castillo, causing a punch-down ruckus, which Jane brilliantly spins into Castillo being a no-nonsense, manly-man fighter for the people.
And what does a manly fighter need? A cause to fight! Therefore Bolivia must be in … some kind of crisis? We’re never sure which crisis that might be, and neither, probably, are the good people of Bolivia. But it gives this “fighter” (read: short-tempered, self-centered, lying, predatory politician) Castillo, something to, you know, fight for the people for.
Will they succeed in spinning Castillo to victory? Will Jane’s manic-depressiveness derail her, especially when Thornton’s Pat Candy reminds her of the fatal consequences her previously all-or-none level of commitment to winning had, which was why she gave up the political life and moved to mountain seclusion?
All in All
The movie is enjoyably fast-paced, but never quite fever-pitch, edge-of-your-seat engaging. The cinematography captures a lot of white, as in the lighting of places of high elevation, which adds a certain coldness to the proceedings. All performances are satisfactory, although, given the subject matter, it’s hard to care for any of the characters, with the exception of Bullock, and the character of Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco), a star-struck young teen overcome with idealism and awe for candidate Castillo, whose trust and fealty is dashed in a truly heartbreaking manner.
Turning Over the Rock
“Crisis” is similar to the currently playing “Sicario” in that it offers a chance to look at the dirty tricks, morally grey areas, and the rationalizing of how ethically ambiguous means might appear to justify the end, delivering a “greater good.”
The generation of good governing in politics always contains the mutual inhibition of corruption; elections can be bought, and those willing to say anything to get elected, once in office, can betray the electorate. We know all this.
What “Crisis” does, and more importantly, what Sandra Bullock does, is show us the toll that all this betrayal of the truth can have on an individual, and even better, through her character arc, reveals the evolving, up out of the pit of cynicism, that her sobriety and mountain retreat ultimately bring to bear.
Her Brand Is Funny
Bullock gets to show her full range. Her brand is still funny (if somewhat muted here); it’s why we always like her, still, at the “advanced” age of 51, when Hollywood becomes a place where older actresses go to die.
Bullock’s exceptionally likeable. You never don’t like Sandra Bullock, similar to that other, interminably funny actress who’s got a dramatic range that is also now starting to get tapped: Jennifer Aniston.
Interesting that the two of them are both former Waldorf School (Rudolf Steiner school) students. Bullock may have intentionally left a clue to that heritage here, dropping the word “choleric” into a conversation, which refers to one of the four human temperaments that are utilized as a teaching tool in Waldorf schools (also a thespian character-research tool in England’s acting tradition). You hear “melancholic” said in movies, but rarely choleric.
Bullock’s one of our top actresses. Comedy is undervalued, but the fact is, actors who play funny well generally do all of it well. It’s just that once the branding sets in, that’s all we want to see from them. That’s the product, and we don’t want our Cheerios and Rice Krispies turning into beet greens anytime soon.
For beet greens we can go to, say, Julianna Margulies, or Anna Paquin (both of whom are also former Waldorf students). From here on in, let Sandra Bullock’s full smorgasbord range out.
‘Our Brand Is Crisis’
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 30
3.5 stars out of 5