Talk about timing. Our Brand Is Crisis is not only timely for this presidential election cycle, but it also really hits the zeitgeist as a smart, funny, entertaining and important look at the machinery behind a campaign. The clever twist is the presidential campaign in this instance is one happening in Bolivia, not America, but the tactics used to drive up poll numbers are surprisingly similar. That’s because the operatives running the show behind the scenes are veterans of the U.S. political scene, and they simply apply what they already know works.

pete hammond review badgeIn fact, even though it diverges wildly from the source material, Our Brand Is Crisis is inspired by Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary which featured famed campaign maestro James Carville and his participation in an actual Bolivian election. The main role, here played by Sandra Bullock as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, was originally written for a man in Peter Straughn’s screenplay but changed to a woman when Bullock expressed interest in the part to producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

As I say in my video review (click the link above), Bullock has never been better than as this burned-out, been-there-done-that talented political campaign consultant who is lured into the game one more time to try and save the floundering presidential run of a former Bolivian president who is lagging at the bottom of the polls. She has a hard time getting her mojo working until she realizes her main career-long nemesis, Pat Candy (a very Carville-like Billy Bob Thornton), is running up the numbers for the leading candidate. He has a history of beating her and that becomes a motivating factor to get this guy she doesn’t know elected. With her competitive juices flowing, it eventually leads to the opening of her bag of tricks.

Although Bullock gets to display her considerable comic skills in several scenes that are just flat-out hilarious, the movie is really a black comedy detailing what really goes into a winning campaign — and it ain’t always pretty. Our Brand Is Crisis also has deeper themes that punctuate the human cost of winning and what it takes to do just that. In the mix is a fine supporting cast including a sensational Thornton, Anthony Mackie as the cool and calm head of the operation that brings Bodine in the fray, Scoot McNairy as the advertising guru who is a bit ethics-challenged, and Zoe Kazan as a research whiz who provides invaluable data in the cause. Joaquim de Almeida is perfect casting as Castillo, the candidate in question.

What makes it all work is the tricky balancing act that takes the film from high comedy to more serious moments, and that is due to some expert direction from David Gordon Green, a helmer who has experience in films as disparate as Pineapple Express and Your Highness to recent more dramatic efforts like Joe and Manglehorn. He turns out to be the perfect choice for this material that relies heavily on hitting just the right tone, or the souffle falls flat. Thanks to this team, Our Brand Is Crisis never does.

Even though Warner Bros is releasing and it has names like Bullock (who also serves as an executive producer) and Clooney behind it, this really feels like a scrappy independent production which hopefully will be able to navigate its way through the major studio system to find the audience it really deserves. I love this kind of sharp political filmmaking, reminiscent of gems in the genre like 1972’s The Candidate or Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog. The funny thing is the current presidential campaign almost makes this all look tame by comparison — sometimes real life trumps art. At any rate, this one is worth catching when it opens Friday.

Do you plan to see Our Brand Is Crisis? Let us know what you think.