Life Insurance For The Llama
Our Brand Is Crisis
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Scoot McNairy, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida, Zoe Kazan and Reynaldo Pacheco
Director: David Gordon Green
Scriptwriter: Peter Straughan from the documentary by Rachel Boynton
Composer: David Wingo
Cinematographer: Tim Orr
Rating: R for profanity and themed material
Running Length: 145 minutes
It is always election time somewhere in the world. In this film with the odd title, it is Bolivia, 2002 and the candidates are of varying temperments. How to win this election. You need strategy and that is what this film is about. How to win using every trick, dirty or otherwise, in the book. Originally written for a man, producer George Clooney has his friend, Sandra Bullock, in the role of a political strategist ("Calamity Jane" Bodine) instead. She takes the role and runs with it, much as Cate Blanchett in "Truth." Where Cate is more active in her interpretation, Sandra sits and thinks and then---wow---here come the ideas. Her mind is never still. Anyone who vaguely thinks of running for any political office should take notes. It won't be easy. Sandra's team follows her like sheep after a shepherd. We have Rich (Scoot McNairy,) Ben (Anthony Mackie), Nell (Ann Dowd), LeClerc (Zoe Kazan) and a newcomer, Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco.) Sinners are made into saints, saints into sinners and the world goes on.
The film begins with Nell tracking down Jane who now lives in a mountain cabin away from such things as cigarettes and fast food. Jane is continually looking for something in her life and seems to have found it there, but still..... A Bolivian politician, Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) wants to be in office---again---and wants the best team to represent him. Jane decides to go and the first third of the film is humorous with her adjusting to the high altitude in Bolivia, traveling with her peace bowl, trying to find something to eat and in general, studying the situation. Why did Jane decide to go? Because old rival, Pat Candy (a skeletal Billy Bob Thornton complete with shaven head like Carville) has been hired by the opposing side. He can't speak without profanity. Their enmity goes way back and revenge is starting to taste sweet. The rest of the film has incidents of projecting Castillo as a pleasant man instead of a thug, finding chinks in the armor of the other opponents, never sleeping, eating whatever is handy on the run, using animals in the campaign and in general working non-stop for weeks. They love it. You get to see the history behind Jane and Candy, and something of the lives of the others in Jane's group, too, especially, Eduardo, who has a connection to Castillo that is poignant. Life in another country is different from the U.S. and poverty is everywhere.
Sandra Bullock, in this role, looks remarkably like Julia Roberts. They both can keep a straight face and then zero in on what they want to really say in a second. Sandra, as Jane, could sell ice boxes to polar bears. Anthony Mackie is the calm one of the group, the one who reins in people to think about the situation. Nell is the person who can make anything happen, Rich is always saying the wrong thing, and LeClerc can find out anything about anybody. It is the actor who portrays Eduardo who steals some scenes, as he becomes an adult after watching these people in action. Boyhood is left behind. Joaquim de Almeida's Castillo is a person who will do anything to win, from the ridiculous to the underhanded. This man does humor well.
A special note here, in the scene involving a race between two buses loaded with people : don't try this.
The camera settles on people's faces, and lets the actors do their thing. I liked this. Body language is part of the humor. Jane's favorite snack food is some kind of large popcorn-type chip and it seems to be her comfort food. She carries the sack with her as a child carries a blanket. This type of side-humor adds to the film. A movie that pokes fun at election campaigns with time for the individuals in the races and their teams is apropos at this time. Just think what will happen in the U.S. in months to come. Who are the strategists who will emerge?
Copyright Marie Asner 2015