Jeremy Rosner, the weirdly magnetic anti-hero of Rachel Boynton's compelling new political documentary Our Brand Is Crisis, is like the protagonist of a David Cronenberg movie: cold, detached, somehow not entirely human. He embodies the notion of political operative as Vulcan, a borderline sociopath with ice water running through his veins.
Rosner is one of a slew of high-priced, highly skilled Democratic strategists, consultants, and spin doctors who come to the aid of Bolivian presidential candidate and former President Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada, an American-bred, well-fed proponent of unfettered free markets and go-go globalization. The Americans face a daunting challenge. The abrasive Goni is widely and not undeservedly perceived as an arrogant stooge for the United States and big business. And he doesn't help his cause by smoking the kind of cigars favored by robber barons in late-19th-century political cartoons, or telling the press that crucial decisions are too important and complicated to permit input from the simple common people. Rosner insists he supports Goni's campaign both professionally and personally, but then he's a Clinton Democrat, and oily pragmatism is hardwired into his DNA.
Rosner works for famed Democratic strategist James Carville, who stops just short of dry-humping the camera lens in his hunger for the spotlight here. Our Brand Is Crisis is full of strangely resonant parallels to American politics. In one riveting scene, a talk-show host asks Goni to name a personal or professional mistake he's made, and though he concedes vaguely to having made errors, he can't specify a single thing he'd do differently, even when given ample time to do so. And when Carville talks about the importance of simplicity and repetition in getting a message out, he could be discussing the political strategy of George W. Bush. For all his meticulously worded talk of being motivated by idealism, Rosner seems to view Bolivia's presidential election as a cross between a chess game and an elaborate scientific experiment. But Our Brand Is Crisis' queasy power comes from its understanding of how elections have tangible real-world consequences that are measured in deaths and riots as wells as polls and ballots.