The opening credits announce that David Gordon Green‘s Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros., 10.30) is “suggested” by Rachel Boynton’s same-titled, decade-old documentary. Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that it’s been transformed into a Sandra Bullock film in much the same way that the once-austere Gravity became a spacesuit-Sandy-in-peril movie for her fans. Four days ago I wondered aloud if Green’s film will be “a Sandra Bullock flick with a real-world political undercurrent, or a political dramedy in which Bullock stars?” Well, it definitely ain’t the latter. Not precisely a Bullock formula thing, mind, but fairly close to that.
All I did during this morning’s 8:30 screening was scowl and grumble and lean forward and occasionally cover my lower face with my right hand. No moaning but occasionally my mouth would pop open in astonishment, or according to Coming Soon‘s Ed Douglas, who was sitting beside me.
What’s a well-respected, semi-realistic political campaign movie? Michael Ritchie‘s The Candidate, right? Well, imagine The Candidate with Robert Redford still playing Bill McKay but instead of Peter Boyle as his campaign manager you’ve got the spirited and irrepressible but at the same struggling-with-depression Barbra Streisand (half the way she was in What’s Up, Doc?, and half Kuh-Kuh-Katey in The Way We Were), and that’s pretty much what Our Brand Is Crisis is, except it’s set in Bolivia and Redford is played by Joaquim de Almeida.
Over and over and over Bullock gets her closeups in this thing, and she looks so reliably and relentlessly herself in every shot and scene. She’s playing a brilliant political consultant in a sometimes surly, sometimes pratfally way, but Our Brand is Crisis is mainly about the fact that (a) she looks burnt-out sullen and kind of Lauren Bacall-y with her one-size-fits-all deadpan glamour-puss expression, nicely dyed blonde hair and distinctive black-rimmed glasses, and (b) she has a great-looking ass for a woman of any age, let alone her own.
Before people start calling me a sexist pig, understand that at the climax of a completely absurd mountain-road race between two political campaign tour buses, Bullock drops trou and shoves her creamy biege, perfectly-shaved butt cheeks out of a side window, “aimed” at her political opponents who are riding alongside. (It’s called “mooning.”) I would have respected this scene more if Bullock’s ass (or that of the ass model who was hired for this one bit) didn’t look so CG-scrubbed. It looks like a love-doll ass. (And don’t blame me — I’m just describing what I saw.)
Billy Bob Thornton has the best role and the best lines as a rival political consultant workgin for another Bolivian presidential candidate. BBT is basically playing James Carville, the famous, real-life political consultant who helped elect Bill Clinton in ’92. Thornton, you’ll recall, more or less portrayed in Mike Nichols‘ Primary Colors. Remember also that Boynton’s doc focused on the experience of Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS) in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election and there you have it.
George Clooney and Grant Heslov, both good guys, produced Our Brand Is Crisis. All I can figure is that it must have sounded good on paper and maybe it was at some point, but then Bullock was cast and the project became something else.
A little over eight years ago, or on 4.24.07, I theorized that if Clooney’s movie version is done right “it could be a great metaphor piece about Americans trying to export its own culture and values — i.e., American political values by way of spin, focus groups, compassionate lying and image-massaging — into other cultures and making things much worse in the process. That’s more or less what the film is about, but kinda dumbed down with laughs and slapstick bits and that hard-to-define but unmistakable Sandra Bullock je ne sais quoi.
Boynton’s doc was about Greenberg Carville Shrum being hired to help the presidential campaign of Gonzalo ‘Goni’ Sanchez de Lozada of the MNR Party. He was a cigar-smoking rich guy with his hand out, but he was at least smart enough to use the (very expensive) services of CCS. Goni paid the fee and the gang flew down to Bolivia (among them Carville, Tad Devine and Jeremy Rosner) to do what they could. Boynton’s doc was about brainstorming sessions, focus groups, carefully staged TV appearances and whatnot. Some guy on an Amazon response forum called it The War Room, Part II: The Bolivian Years.
Goni was elected, but then the country’s economy worsened and the people took to the streets and he was finally forced to resign.