Conducting a political campaign is like balancing barefoot on the blade of a knife. If you slip, you will be wounded, but if you can manipulate the blade, you may deal your opponent a fatal blow. Your balance is crucial, especially in a negative ‘crisis’ situation, but as the mantra of tough political consultant Jane Bodine goes: “Our brand is crisis.”
American Bodine, dubbed Calamity Jane has been brought in, to turn around a failing Bolivian presidential candidate’s dire ratings. She’s a disposable, according to one of the campaign team, who sought her out for the task. As the special forces would define it, if a disposable wins, well and good. If they don’t – well, they are disposable after all.
Bodine is in self-imposed retirement, after her career was rocked by a political scandal. Living in a log-cabin in the US backwoods and crafting pottery, she seems to have lost her acerbic edge, but is tempted back to the blocks like an old prizefighter, by the lure of the baying crowd.
The movie is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name and the role of Bodine is played with wry deftness and a certain sadistic humour by Sandra Bullock. Her aim is to get Castillo (Joaquim del Almeida) a controversial former president whom nobody loves any more, re-elected in Bolivia.
But Bodine arrives in the remote South American country totally debilitated by altitude sickness and, as a non-Spanish-speaking gringo retching into a wastepaper bin, wins no friends, even in her own camp and initially alienates herself from her candidate. Castillo’s respect for her ability increases, however, as his percentages improve.
Based on a true story, Bodine’s main nemesis is long-term rival Pat Candy, played by a low key Billy Bob Thornton, way below Bullock in on-screen energy, but no less of a rattlesnake for all that. Like a rattler, when you hear the rattle, it’s too late to save yourself. And Jane is in his sights, riding for a fall, as her negative campaign against Candy’s candidate starts kicking in, with her own brand of venom.
Co-produced by George Clooney, the movie initially promised fuller involvement by the suave Hollywood star, reputedly in direction and an acting role. That was subject to change, however and it was directed by David Gordon Green.
Our Brand is Crisis is not the sharpest political satire, but it is an attractive morality tale, especially with the build-up to the US presidential campaign ongoing. Who will hold the ‘trump’ card there?
And maybe some of our own political lobbyists could learn a trick or two from the hard-won Bolivian battle. Rife with rumour, counter-rumour and fascinating for those of us who thrive on political machinations, it has had a mixed to poor response in the US, but could poll well here.
by Liz Kennedy
Our Brand is Crisis (107 mins) is a certificate 15.