Our Brand Is Crisis is based loosely on a 2005 documentary, which was based on a 2002 Bolivian presidential election. In a way it's triple-distilled truth, but mostly it feels like an over-interpreted copy of a copy of a copy.
In case you weren't following South American politics in the early 2000s, here's the scene: Bolivia isn't doing great. Dictators, democracy and internationalization aren't going over great with the people. In a crowded presidential race, one of the candidates is running on a platform of "everything is fine, so shut up." He hires American campaign consultants who are so good at making him over, manipulating the press and slandering his opponent that he manages to eke out a victory. Then he turns out to be a dickbag.
The film is a look at how that dickbag sausage was made, following his consultants as they swing the election. But while the documentary was a cautionary tale about exporting American-style politics, the new movie—directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and produced by the politically active silver fox George Clooney—drills a simpler message: "Politics are evil." It's not a subtle position, but you can tell from the title this is not a movie about nuance. Sandra Bullock is a master campaign strategist, but she hates crowded spaces. Get it? She runs campaigns but hates people. Didn't catch that? Don't worry, somebody in the film explains it outright.
The script perches comfortably on the nose, but Bullock adds off-the-nose nuance. Her retired-genius-with-a-troubled-past-and-a-heart-of-gold feels fresh thanks to her fun quirks, like snacking exclusively on potato chips and carrying around a bottle of Newman's Own Steak Sauce. She even makes cheesy lines like "Nothing is wrong in politics except not winning" seem like reasonable things for an adult to say. Billy Bob Thornton, who injects sleaze into any script he gets, plays her rival. I could watch them go back and forth (Bullock wins) all day.
The acting and some decently funny moments (like a llama getting hit by a car, which I felt guilty for laughing at) mask the feeling of being force-fed idealism well. But as with all force-feeding, I still ended up feeling sick to my stomach when it was over.
Critic's Grade: B-
SEE IT: Our Brand Is Crisis is rated R. It opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Clackamas, Cornelius and Oak Grove.