Possible spoilers ahead!
After years of battles on the stage in United States politics, Jane “Calamity” Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is living a quiet life in a remote mountain cabin. A decade on the campaign trail took their toll on Jane, but she’s now three years sober and getting the best sleep of her life. Now, Bodine spends her days crafting pottery and recovering from her former job as a campaign strategist. Everything changes when former colleague Nell (Ann Dowd) and consultant for hire Ben (Anthony Mackie) show up on Bodine’s doorstep, asking for her expertise in the 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign.
Jane initially declines the job – until she discovers that her former rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), has been hired to aid an opposing candidate. Despite her disillusions about election, and all around disdain for all politicians, Bodine Jane can’t resist a chance to finally beat her arch rival Candy, agreeing to help Nell and Ben.
The candidate Jane is now working for is a former Bolivian President turned senator turned Presidential candidate, Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida). However, in the aftermath of his previous administration in the 1990’s, Gallo is one of the most unpopular persons in Bolivia. This forces Bodine and her colleagues to reframe Gallo’s candidacy to suit his strengths: Gallo is Bolivia’s steady hand in a time of “crisis.”
“Our Brand is Crisis” is based on the 2005 documentary film of the same name by Rachel Boynton, which detailed the actual 2002 Bolivian presidential election. However, most details and names have been changed in order to transform the very real upheaval of 2002 Bolivia into a digestible dramedy. One example: Sandra Bullock’s role was originally written for George Clooney.
The biggest challenge for director David Gordon Green was maintaining a balance between social and political commentary as well as comedy. The result is a sometimes amusing but very average tale of a character, pulled out of retirement, who then reconnects with the job she once loved, just in time to instill actual change for a country.
It should come as no surprise that Sandra Bullock is the best thing about this movie. She’s charming in the lead role; and she’s always believable as a campaign manager. From her tough talk with candidate Gallo to her frantic and even drunken pranks against Billy Bob Thornton.
Speaking of Billy Bob, he was able to transform annoying campaign manager Pat Candy, into one of the movie’s biggest surprises. Each interaction between Bodine and Candy is engaging, thanks to a tense but playful relationship between the opposing strategists. They may not like each other, but I think there’s mutual respect there. And I must say the two actors had great chemistry, which I wasn’t expecting.
“Our Brand is Crisis” has its moments, some funny (like the mountainside bus chase), and some moments that are touching (any scene with Reynaldo Pacheco as a capaign volunteer). But in the end the movie fails to make the 2002 Bolivian presidential election into something a general movie audience would care about.
“Our Brand is Crisis” final score: 6