OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 87 minutes
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It’s all well and good to blithely say that America is in the business of exporting democracy. Few could argue that doing so is a bad thing…unless, of course, the voters who’ve imported that democracy happen to elect Communists, Socialists, or Muslim theocrats to office. Maybe when you think about it, democracy is a bit like cholesterol: there’s both “good” democracy and “bad” democracy. And under our current president, if you’re a Third World nation and your people exercise “bad” democracy by electing the wrong guy, it might just mean a visit by the U.S. Marines.

In any event, one other, perhaps unforeseen byproduct of our exporting democracy to the world is the supplemental exportation of such democratic trappings as political consultants, pollsters, and media advisers. Call ‘em the political posse, if you will. (I wonder how they translate “handler” in the Ukraine.)

In fact, if democracy continues to spread in the Middle East and in other once-hostile regions of the globe, political consulting could very easily become a huge growth industry, an anti-out-sourcing of sorts. If it does, America’s top consulting firm Greenberg, Carville, and Shrum, (AKA “GCS”), should solidify its status as an industry leader.

The “Carville,” of course, is the Ragin’ Cajun himself; fiery Democratic partisan James Carville, who helped elect Bill Clinton to the White House. Political junkies might also recognize the name of Democratic poll-meister Stan Greenberg.

Unlike Carville’s first silver screen go-around, in the superior cult classic documentary “The War Room,” however, this is not a race for the White House, but for the presidency of that Latin American basket case of a country, Bolivia. In this race, former Bolivian President Sanchez de Lozada, known locally as “Goni,” has hired GCS to help him regain his former position of power.

Goni is polling double-digits behind his rivals in a crowded eleven-man race, as director Rachel Boynton’s fine documentary picks up the story. An elegant — some would say “arrogant” — American-educated former exile, Goni’s previous stint in office produced a mixed bag, at best. But as Bolivia slides ever closer towards chaos, the folks at GCS believe he’s the man for the job…especially since he’s paying them to think so.

Assisting Carville and Co. in their uphill electoral efforts is not George Stephanopoulos, Carville’s trusty sidekick from “The War Room,” but rather the freakishly calm message-smith Jeremy Rosner, who serves as this film’s focal point and tour guide. “Our Brand Is Crisis” takes viewers inside this Bolivian war room, where we sit in on strategy meetings and observe focus groups in action. We also follow Goni and his rivals on the campaign trail, and get an inside look as GCS tries to nudge their flawed candidate to the top of the fractured field. (The U.S. may be divided into so-called “Red” and “Blue” states, but in Bolivia’s eleven man free-for-all, the country looks like a Crayola box as the race goes down to the wire.)

Domestic politics aside, Americans are generally happy to see democracy spread, even if, as Rosner wisely warns, democracy without some sort of ensuing economic pay-off, is still a prescription for disaster. Not that the folks at GCS ever have to worry, however. For if the fascinating, if disconcerting “Our Brand Is Crisis” teaches us one thing, it’s that consultants, handlers, lawyers, and middlemen can always find a job.



Posted on February 27, 2006 in Reviews by
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