“Our Brand Is Crisis” is a movie about one of the most fundamental and enduring American exports: the political spin machine.
The fictionalized take on the 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton, about spin doctors from James Carville’s company working on the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, arrives in theaters this week as Donald Trump remains at or near the top of the GOP presidential race thanks in no small part to the perception that he has rejected all of the usual image doctoring.
Thus, the already thin line between Hollywood and Washington, D.C. has never seemed more blurry, says “Crisis” director David Gordon Green (“The Pineapple Express”).
“It’s turned politics into pop culture, where we’re getting these incredible ratings from debates, where people otherwise would just be bored from watching a three-hour debate,” he says. “And instead, they’re able to charge massive amounts for advertising these debates, and it’s turned into reality television.”
Despite that inextricable connection, this is in some ways a strange and unlikely project. For one thing, it transplants Hollywood archetypes onto a real place, Bolivia, rather than the fictional settings that are usually standard when it comes to political satire.
The movie stars Sandra Bullock as an operative brought in to the isolated South American country to boost the flagging presidential campaign of a former incumbent, who is struggling well behind an upstart being managed by Bullock’s longtime rival (Billy Bob Thornton).
“We talked about it and my fear was it became ‘Moon Over Parador,’ or a movie that had no authenticity to it,” Green says. “Our responsibility became, ‘Let’s do our homework and let’s make a place, from an outsider’s point of view, let’s do as much as we can to integrate into our education and research and make it feel real. I think the emotional gravity would be lost if we didn’t.”
Anthony Mackie plays a strategist who helps recruit Bullock’s Jane Bodine. He’s a big believer in the real-world approach to exposing the hidden world of politics, having also just completed a stint playing Martin Luther King Jr. in the upcoming HBO version of “All the Way,” about the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.
“Film is the most influential medium of any of the arts,” says Mackie, who is best known for playing Falcon in the Marvel universe of movies. “It reaches such a broad demographic. And the scary thing is, a lot of people just don’t know our history.”
This is serious stuff, of course, but the movie has its share of lighthearted comedy. Green intended for the tone to shift wildly.
There aren’t many actors who could handle such a challenge. Bullock, one of the most enduring movie stars we have, breezes through the difficult material.
“She can kick [expletive] in ‘Speed,’ and then she can break your heart in another movie,” Green says. “So she’s perfect for this.”