“Our Brand is Crisis” takes a timely and satirical look at the high-stakes gamesmanship behind the scenes of a presidential campaign, seen through the eyes and actions of the strategists-for-hire who are pulling the strings. Bringing audiences into the belly of the beast with a fictional story as relevant as today’s news cycle, it explores the often outrageous and unconscionable lengths to which some people will go in their competitive zeal to get the job done and cross the finish line ahead of the other guy.
“So much of politics and the election process is absurd, from big business to the media circus, the sound bites and the haircuts,” says director David Gordon Green. Addressing some of the film’s tonal facets, he adds, “Politics has become entertainment and marketing. That’s where the movie has some fun and a sense of humor, in exposing that absurdity, which gives the story its energy and momentum even as the characters are facing some difficult issues that we definitely don’t tiptoe around.”
It was Green’s gift for keeping that kind of balance in play that led the producers to enlist him for the project, citing his success not only with irreverent comedies like “Pineapple Express” and the acclaimed HBO comedy/drama “Eastbound and Down,” but for what producer Grant Heslov calls “character driven films about big ideas.”
Heslov, who produced “Our Brand is Crisis” in tandem with his Smokehouse Pictures partner George Clooney, goes on to acknowledge, “This isn’t a partisan thing. You can stand on either side and see it; the crazy amount of money involved and the B.S. that goes on. It’s something that has always interested us, the idea of winning at whatever cost. In the case of Jane Bodine, the cost is her soul, and that’s what she’s coming to terms with.”
Sandra Bullock stars as lead operative Jane Bodine, once considered among the best in the business, who has lately retreated from the political spotlight.
Bullock, who was also part of the producing team, explains, “When we first meet Jane, she’s had to remove herself from the world in which she’d spent most of her life, for the sake of survival. She was brilliant at her job. But it became an addiction to her, and what it turned her into and the mindset it required became dangerous. Jane is fragile. She has some instability issues, some addiction issues. And clearly all of that was exacerbated when she was in that world, so she just had to stop.”
“The thing I loved about this role was that there didn’t seem to be any rules or boundaries, whether emotionally or in the tone,” Bullock continues. “And that was indicative of the whole story, which, I feel really represents life in that there’s no such thing as all drama or all laughs in day-to-day events. Even serious stories can have painfully funny elements and you can find drama and tragedy in funny moments, and I was drawn to this character and this film because of those complexities.”
As the story opens, the infamous campaign fixer is in seclusion, following a tragically unsuccessful run that left her more shattered than she can admit. She’s not quite ready to return to the fray when a former associate comes knocking in hopes that Jane can help turn things around for a hugely unpopular presidential candidate in Bolivia, named Castillo. She declines. But when Jane learns that her bitter rival Pat Candy has been hired by the opposing party, her competitive nature kicks in. Having lost to Pat more than once before, this could be her chance to even the score.
“I imagine political consultants are, in a lot of ways, like actors,” says Billy Bob Thornton, who stars as Pat Candy. “Sometimes you do things because it’s something you really love and are passionate about and other times – hopefully not too often – you do it because you’re a professional and you’re getting paid, so you go in there and turn it on in that moment.”
Given Jane’s reputation, turning it on is exactly what everyone expects. But that part of her is badly damaged. Instead, Jane’s arrival in La Paz is uncharacteristically muted. Apart from noting that everything the campaign has been doing thus far is wrong, she barely participates, making both the American consultants and Castillo’s team wonder if she’s really lost her touch. Led to believe they were getting the infamous Jane Bodine, they see instead this dishevelled and dispirited woman barely able to keep it together. Where is that brilliant mind and legendary drive, that killer instinct?
But just when it seems like hiring Jane was a big mistake, something clicks inside her. Maybe it’s muscle memory, maybe it’s the idea of Pat Candy throwing down the gauntlet, or maybe it’s just the siren call of a process she finds equally repellant and irresistible… Suddenly, and despite the obvious fact that she is still falling apart, Jane rises to the challenge. Vacillating between self-doubt and bouts of manic energy, she sets to work, collating focus-group data, poll results and media buzz with her still-honed instincts to assess Castillo’s mettle and craft an image of him that not only plays up his strengths but camouflages his weaknesses.
Then, in a breathtaking display of the kind of skill and genius that made her who she is, she sucker-punches his opponent and puts Pat on notice by flipping a negative into a positive: casting her privileged, confrontational and arrogant client as the only individual strong enough to lead his country out of its economic morass…and therein lies the meaning of the film’s title. Declaring the situation in Bolivia a crisis and holding up their man as its solution, they draw attention away from any other issues with a simple and dramatic directive that cannot be denied. Crisis becomes the foundation of their campaign, their slogan, their brand.