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OUR BRAND IS CRISIS: 3 STARS. “best James Carville impersonation ever.”

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Based on real event, “Our Brand is Crisis,” a new dramedy starring Sandra Bullock as a strategist working on a Bolivian election, shows just how fragile and easily manipulated the political process can be.

Bullock is ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine, a reformed political animal now living a quiet life. She has traded smoking, drinking and the stresses of her old job for mountain air and a pottery kiln. When she is pulled back in the game to run the presidential campaign of unpopular Bolivian politician Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) she finds herself face-to-face with her nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a Machiavellian politico who wants his candidate to win at any cost. Jane knows her candidate is unlikeable and with him railing in the polls by a whopping 28 points, she crafts a wining strategy. “Don’t change the man to fit the narrative,” she says, “change the narrative to fit the man.” With Bolivia facing severe hardships she creates a campaign that plays up the country’s crisis and positions her man as a tough guy who won’t pussyfoot around the problems. “It’s better to be feared than loved,” she says.

A mix of satire, cautionary tale and earnest social commentary, “Our Brand is Crisis” succeeds primarily because of Bullock’s work in the central role. It’s her Erin Brockovich, the story of a person’s realization that her efforts can affect, both positively and negatively, the lives of a great many people. Bullock walks a fine line between Gracie Hart, her character in “Miss Congeniality” and her more serious work in films like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The tone of her performance shifts between slapstick to heartfelt and she pulls it off, carefully calibrating the character to fit the mood of the scene.

As for Thornton, if this acting thing falls apart for Billy Bob he will be able to find work as a James Carville impersonator.

“Our Brand is Crisis” is a cynical movie that lays its cards on the table. The political electoral system, it says, is an easily manipulated game not always played in the best interests of the people. The Bolivian setting seems exotic and otherworldly at times, but the basic principles, the dirty tricks, are anything but. The film is a thought provoking piece that may make you think twice the next time you vote.

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