The last time a big movie studio used third world unrest as the backdrop to an otherwise entirely gringo political thriller, they called it Argo and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. So why give up a good thing? That’s probably the question Argo’s producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney asked themselves before menacingly spinning a globe and landing their spindly pointer fingers on the mountainous landlocked nation of Bolivia.
At least that’s how I imagine it. In truth, they probably caught just wind of the award-winning 2005 documentary Our Brand is Crisis, which chronicled the work of American political strategists in the midst of Bolivia’s highly restive 2002 presidential election season. We can assume this because their latest feature is called Our Brand is Crisis, and it dramatizes the work of American political strategists during Bolivia’s highly restive 2002 presidential election season.
Of course, as we can expect from the great folks over at Hollywood, the film isn’t actually about Bolivia or its complex political history, but rather about an underdog American political consultant and her process of ethical transformation…against the backdrop of third world political unrest. Although with socially responsible movie studio Participant Media behind the project, we can be relatively sure that their hearts are in the right place – even if they reduce Bolivian social reality to the modern equivalent of a hand-painted set.
In the film, Sandra Bullock plays fictional political consultant Jane Bodine (based on the well-known strategist James Carville), who is coaxed out of retirement for one last hurrah, which involves tailoring a branded political campaign to fictional presidential candidate Pedro Gallo (a stand-in for Bolivia’s real-life Dr. Evil and ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada). Her nemesis appears in the form of a cue-balled Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Pat Candy, the consultant for current president Evo Morales’ fictional stand-in. In the film, as in real-life, Mr. Gallo wins after a bloody campaign of repression. The movie likely doesn’t touch upon the fact that Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned a year later amid charges he ordered the killings of protestors and his subsequent escape to the United States. In fact in 2008, the Bolivian government formally submitted a request to the U.S. government for the extradition of the ex-president.
Pérate, pérate. It’s a movie about the bad guy winning, based on a struggling nation’s traumatic recent past? Guess we’ll have to wait till August 30 to figure out how the heck the folks at Participant – and their highly respectable director, David Gordon Green – made this bitter pill swallowable. In the meantime, check out the original 2005 documentary’s trailer for a surreal tonal juxtaposition that makes the whole thing seem that much more wacky.
Our Brand Is Crisis opens in theaters on October 30, 2015.