When Jane Bodine answers the door to the political operatives who want to win her sly services at the start of Our Brand Is Crisis, the campaign specialist is checked out, home alone “between two mountains” as she carefully explains to them.
And even though she agrees to join the crew back in Bolivia, the thin air disagrees with Bodine causing her to upchuck much and remain in a state of lethargy.
For a good chunk of time, big star Sandra Bullock doesn’t look like she’s going to do much but mope in this political farce/satire/documentary/fairy tale directed by David Gordon Green, written by Peter Straughan, executive produced by her Gravity co-star George Clooney and somewhat based on a real election there in the mid-2000s.
Then a middle-aged guy breaks out of a crowd after a debate and breaks an egg over her candidate’s head, and former head of state Pedro Castillo, ably played by craggy-faced Joaquim de Almeida, responds by socking the guy in the face.
Suddenly Calamity Jane springs into life with her main idea — the title of the film, naturally — and the rest of the main campaign staff, pleasingly portrayed by Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scott McNairy and Zoe Kazan, respond in various degrees of enthusiasm, tepid agreement, annoyance or anger.
But Castillo starts gaining points when he listens to Jane, and the gang starts rounding into shape, too.
Her foil is the campaign guru for the main foe. Pat Candy, played by a shaved-bald Billy Bob Thornton, has beaten Jane in a string of their last dust-ups, and talk is that the dirty play between them sent her to the hills of solitude. His wink-wink behavior to her borders on leering and solicitude. Her frost and determination to beat his brains in is palpable.
From there the movie turns into a damning display of how shady these folks can get to sway votes their candidates’ way. Yes, Sandra Bullock will take a role these days where you betcha she knows right off that a good portion of the viewing public won’t much like some of the actions of her character.
The politics of the candidates and the nation they’re in actually play second fiddle to the interplay between Candy and Calamity Jane, although Reynaldo Pacheco struggles valiantly to make the most of his role as Eddie, a young volunteer from the poor part of town who stands by Castillo because of a photo that hangs on the cracked walls of the apartment he shares with his brothers of he as a child being held aloft by the man when he ran the country.
At the end, there are winners and losers and a big gray area in between. So this so-so total package that could have been so much more might have been about politics after all.
What’s your favorite political movie, and why? What’s your favorite Sandra Bullock movie, and why? What’s your favorite Billy Bob Thornton movie, and why?