Our Brand Is Crisis
Film Review by Kam Williams
American Media Consultants Manipulate Bolivian Political Campaign in Dirty Tricks Dramedy
In 2002, Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada, a candidate for the presidency of Bolivia, found himself floundering in the polls with just a few months to go to election day. Since the desperate multimillionaire had been raised in the United States, he was well aware of how a political consulting firm was capable of influencing the outcome of an election.
So, he retained the services of James Carville, who had successfully orchestrated Bill Clinton’s presidential bid in 1992. And soon, the flamboyant spin doctor descended upon Bolivia with a team of seasoned, media-savvy strategists.
Still, repositioning Goni would be no mean feat, given the fact that he was an unpopular ex-president who’d already been exposed as a pro-American, pro-globalization puppet controlled by powerful corporate interests. Carville and company’s only hope rested in employing smear tactics against the two favorites in the race, one, a socialist, the other, a centrist.
Ultimately, the carpetbaggers did prevail, and that incredible feat was chronicled by Our Brand Is Crisis (2005), a dispiriting documentary illustrating just how easy it is for money to corrupt the democratic process with the help of operatives parachuted in from Madison Avenue. The picture also questioned the wisdom of fixing foreign elections in this fashion, since very bloody, civil unrest subsequently arose anyway in Bolivia, which forced Goni to flee the country for asylum in the U.S. a year into his administration.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), Our Brand Is Crisis 2.0 serves up a relatively-sanitized version of the aforementioned events. Names have been changed and characters have been conflated and added to make the Yankee intervention appear almost benign.
Here, courtesy of revisionist history, the socialist (Louis Arcella) and capitalist (Joaquim de Almeida) candidates both rely on assistance from American PR firms led by Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), respectively. The entertaining adventure pits a flirtatious and crafty mercenary versus an idealistic, ex-alcoholic in search of redemption in an escalating battle of wits marked by deception and dirty tricks.
Instead of making a pure political thriller, director Green has opted to undercut the tension with moments of levity and sexual innuendo. The upshot is that the movie works very well as formulaic Hollywood fare, so long as you don’t enter the theater anticipating an experience as sophisticated as the thought-provoking documentary which inspired it.
A light-hearted primer in how to mount a smear campaign and thereby manipulate a banana republic to vote against its own self-interest.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual references
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures