First Hit: An uninspiring film and Harrelson’s make-up was very distracting.
I didn’t know a lot about President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woody Harrelson) except that LBJ rose to the position of President because of President John F. Kennedy’s (JFK) assassination. He also escalated the Vietnam war, picked up his beagles by the ears, which distressed dog owners, and got the landmark civil rights bill banning racial discrimination in public places, interstate commerce, housing and in the workplace. This last part was milestone legislation.
I had hoped this film would fill in some of the blanks I had about the man and his legacy; it didn’t. It showed he drank a fair amount of whisky, he was crass, wanted to be liked, really wanted to complete JFK’s agenda and was really disliked by Bobby Kennedy.
From what the film showed there was little to like about LBJ. We did see that his wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was his true confidant, although her part in the film was minimal.
The story might have been interesting if there were a few changes. A better more deeply developed main character by providing something about who he was and where he came from, would have helped. I think the prosthetics used to make Woody Harrelson were distracting. It made Johnson’s face look fake by having the eyes and mouth seem to be working in a different plane than the rest of the face and body.
The best part of the whole film was LBJ’s speech to a full session of congress after JFK’s death.
It is hard to determine Harrelson’s performance because he was so encumbered by the prosthetic devices and makeup. His accent fluctuated at times and seemed to move toward a more modern feeling instead of being from the 1960’s. I do think Harrelson was earnest in his effort and the script was not well thought out. Leigh was OK in her very almost invisible background role. Michael Stahl-David as Bobby Kennedy was strong. He carried and excellently expressed the differences between a southern democrat and a northern one. Richard Jenkins as Senator Richard Russell was really good. I think Jenkins was excellent at sharing old-school southern democratic ways. Joey Hartstone wrote a week and rambling unfocused screenplay. Rob Reiner did LBJ and this film a disservice and let the unfocused, rambling and un-grounded biography to play out in this way.
Overall: A disappointing film.