Review – Crisis Avoided (or should be) (“Our Brand Is Crisis”)

“If you battle monsters long enough, you become one”. That’s the overall theme of this dramedy set in Bolivia where a cut-throat political strategist faces her demons. . . and her deadliest rival in a dirty political game of “My candidate HAS to win! And at any cost!”

Sandra Bullock stars as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a ruthless political campaign strategist that, after decades of spearheading campaigns, going into rehabs, battling depression, and dodging terrible rumors, has gone into a six-year self-imposed exile to get clean by making pottery and living peacefully in the mountains. But her past catches up with her as she’s asked to front the Presidential campaign for a temperamental Bolivian senator named Pedro Gallo Castillo (Joaquin deAlmeida) who is losing in the polls. The dangling carrot? Her arch-nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), the lethal strategist for the other candidate.

Aided by Castillo’s camp, consultants Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd) get Jane to form-fit Castillo to what the Bolivian people will want to see and vote for El Presidente. But it’s a tough sell since the opposing candidate, Victor Rivera, is so darn likable. Solution? Create a crisis that only Castillo can fix and make him a rough, tough, and powerful leader-figure with the people, which comes in handy after an egg-attack on the senator.

Jane also brings in her pit-bull investigator, LeClerc (Zoe Kazan) to dig up as much dirt on Rivera as possible, while Candy does the same thing. In-between the ruthlessness of the smear tactics, there’s some light-hearted fun with Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco), a young intern and his idealistic brothers. But all is not play-time in the world of politics and things get dirty and dirtier closer to election time. Jane even becomes the “monster” that Pat had mentioned to her and she almost pays the price for her candidate’s election.

With a screenplay by Peter Straughan, this George Clooney funded picture (he was set to direct originally, but opted to produce), was directed by David Gordon Green. Nowhere as thrilling or emotionally unsettling as Clooney’s politically charged The Ides of March, this movie, based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, jumps and meanders about the Bolivian political scene, a country where we can hardly relate to. The decent, but messy screenplay has all the elements of a top-notch political joyride, but takes way too many side-trips, jarring the pace. That, and the script doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy, a drama, or something in the middle.

The acting kudos go to Bullock and Thornton, who are always fun to watch. When they trade off lines, even in the quietest moments, you can just feel the chemistry between them. Green’s direction, although he’s only made a string of forgettable television shows, shows some real promise here, as he just doesn’t set the camera down and shoot; playing it safe for his first feature film. Still, it’s a delight to see Bullock back again doing her signature ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ delivery of lines that she is known and loved for.

The Ides Of March (2011)

No, it’s NOT about Caesar and salads, it’s a twisty, deviously delicious film about political strategists and how far they are willing to go to get their candidates elected. Conceived by George Clooney, who used most of his own money to bankroll this indie project, he co-wrote, directed, and starred in this brilliant film and got his friends to star in it with him.

This is a thinking movie; you really have to watch and pay attention to all the intricacies of the plot to totally enjoy the deep satirical political humor that is being flung about, even though it’s NOT a comedy. The story involves Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as the junior campaign manager for Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (Clooney), a Democratic prez candidate in the primaries. His opponent is Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell) and both men are trying to secure the all-too crucial endorsement of Senator Franklin Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 convention delegates, enough to clinch the nomination for either candidate.

After a debate, Meyers is asked by Pullman’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), to meet in secret. Meyers calls his boss, Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who doesn’t answer. Meyers is then offered a position in Pullman’s campaign because he’s damn good, but Meyers refuses.

Meanwhile, Meyers starts a sexual relationship with Molly Stearns (Evan Rachael Wood), a beautiful Morris campaign intern. BUT! She’s also been fooling around with Morris and gets pregnant! That’s not good, especially during an election year. So, Molly (with the help of Meyers) gets an abortion, but if the news ever leaked out, the scandal alone would be disastrous.

More bad news: Meyers gets fired by his boss for not telling him he was approached by Duffy, the other campaign manager. Meyers then goes to Duffy for that previous job offer, but is rebuked on the grounds that he can’t be trusted. THEN Molly is found dead of an apparent suicide, which Meyers knows isn’t true. Forced into a corner, he starts to play a dangerous game with all his past colleagues to get his old job back and gain respect at the same time

The nail-biting, twist-turning script, worthy of Sorkin or Mamet was written by Clooney, Beau Willimon and Grant Heslov, and based on Willimon’s play, Farragut North. It’s amazing that Clooney pulled an “Orson Welles” here with this brilliant film; he directed it, put up part of his own money ($12 million budget), co-wrote the script, starred in it, and oversaw it’s production as well!

The acting is superior, the writing is lazer-sharp and precise, the production values are high, and Clooney’s direction, for an amateur, is remarkably good. The film went on to receive a laundry list of top awards including nominations of Best Picture, Actor (Gosling), Director, and Screenplay at the Golden Globe Awards. Trust me, you have GOT to rent this movie.