Our Brand is Crisis began life as a 2005 documentary that chronicled the Machiavellian marketing tactics employed by US company Greenberg Carville Shrum in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, on behalf of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
Inevitably, someone decided that Rachel Boyton’s stranger than fiction, would make for a solid feature. Hence, a constellation of likeable actors has been put on the case. Sandra Bullock heads the cast as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a retired political consultant lured back into the fray to secure the re-election of the plainly unlikeable Bolivian president Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida).
As a bonus, she gets to resume her long-standing political rivalry with opposing hack Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton).
Almost everyone in the film is unscrupulous and sleazy, though Jane’s team is staffed by such delightful screen presences as Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan.
Indeed, on paper, Our Brand is Crisis ought to be part of the awards conversation: Peter Staughan, who scripted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Frank, wrote the screenplay; David Gordon Green directs; George Clooney produces.
But the film doesn’t quite come together as it should: the tone dithers between comedy and drama, and a very late crisis of conscience is incongruous enough to feel like a grand piano landing on your head.
Still, there are important lessons about political manipulation and there’s fun to be had watching Bullock and Billy Bob seething at one another.