Warner Bros.
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: B-
Director:  David Gordon Green
Written by:  Peter Straughan
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Bill Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd
Screened at: WB Screening Room, NYC, 10/27/15
Opens:  October 30, 2015

Plato, the ancient Greek thinker, thought that government by philosopher-king would be best.  The philosopher-king would be a person of wisdom, restraint, and balance.  Plato also thought that democracy was the worst form of government, one that would lead to mob rule, or ochlocracy.  Maybe he has something there.  If you look at American campaigns for everything from dog catcher to President, you wonder about a system in which Joe Biden decided not to run because he thought it was “too late to mount a campaign.”  Huh?  With eighteen months to go until election day?  The real reason, some say, is that he did not think he could win, but then he was honest enough to admit that.  Most politicians lie, though.  That left-leaning prime minister in Greece campaigned for re-election on a promise that he would not go along with the European Union’s demand for an austerity budget.  He won on that platform, but not a week went by before he agreed with EU demands, against the will of his electorate.

But the main reason Plato must have been against democracy—and the reason for this overlong introduction to a review of “Our Brand is Crisis”—is the film’s view that like juries, “the people” vote on emotions, largely, not on rationality.  If a presidential candidate sheds a tear during a TV debate, that’s a big plus.  If the candidate is reasonably good looking, charismatic in posture and speech, another chance to win one for the Gipper.  If he tells the people what he thinks they want to hear regardless of whether he believes in their choices and whether he expects to follow through on their will, big big plus: make that a multiplication sign.  By displaying a candidate for the presidency of Bolivia who, before even taking office, spits on the popular will (in this case by having his country join the International Monetary Fund which is dominated by the rich countries), David Gordon Green presents an allegory that applies well enough to elections here in the States.

This is not only a political movie about campaigning for office: it is a study of character, specifically the character of Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a person who is a burnout from leading previous campaigns and who comes across for a good deal of this film’s 108 minutes as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  David Gordon Green, whose directing résumé includes “Pineapple Express” (a process server and his marijuana dealer are on the run from hit men), borrows heavily from Rachel Boynton’s 85-minute documentary with the same name, based on the actual 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign pitting winner Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada against Evo Morales in which our own James Carville served as the victor’s campaign strategist.

In this fictionalized version the part of Sánchez is taken by Joaquim de Almeida as Castillo, a man who had been president fifteen years back but is now trailing well behind Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella).  Rivera’s American strategist is Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) while Castillo has a team including Jane, Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd).  Both Bodine and Thornton are based on the 2002 strategist James Carville.

Many of the scenes are as repetitious as campaigns usually are with the politicians spouting the same homilies and drying the same tearful eyes—and could have used some adroit editing.  For her part, Sandra Bullock spends a good deal of the film in an uninteresting passive, depressed mode from the time she de-planes and can scarcely breathe in the 12,000-feet altitude of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz.  When she gets her groove back midway, her pouts turn to shouts in a film that can hardly be called cleverly written. (Scripter Peter Straughan’s résumé includes better days as with “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats”).

The movie was filmed in mostly Puerto Rico and on site in Bolivia with some worthwhile scenes of Bolivia’s striking mountain ranges and the signature hats of the women.

Rated R.  108 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B+
Overall – B-


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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