Primary Colors (1998)

Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Elaine May, based on the novel by Anonymous
Starring John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton

My Advice: Don't Miss It.

Henry Burton (Lester) is in desperate need of heroes.  He wants to help the people, he wants to go out and help make history.  He finds what may be the chance he's looking for in the Presidential campaign of one Gov. Jack Stanton (Travolta), who with his wife Susan (Thompson) is hellbent on winning the primary and then the White House.  As the campaign progresses, however, more and more facts are revealed by the press about Stanton and, past problems and dalliances, shall we say.  Henry gradually has to come to terms with being among people who believe that when it comes to politics, the ends justify the means.

This could have been a film that did nothing but ride the wave of recent governmental woes that the United States has been having.  And it does its fair share of that, have no doubts.  However, it takes the story of the rise of the Stantons, through the eyes of Henry, and neither glorifies nor demonizes their characters, but instead gives us a nice rounded view of them and what they see as their mission.  They have in mind such good things they want to do for people and their intentions are very good, but to them the cost is no object.  I can't tell if all of this was right out of the novel, but kudos to whoever's responsible.  It makes for a very engaging watch.

Now, what completes the enjoyment is the cast.  A cornucopia of great talent.  First and foremost, Travolta is deadon in his interp of the governor.  He gives a great performance as the man you really want to believe, who has all the right words for every occasion.  Thompson is good as the first lady-to-be, although at the beginning I couldn't tell if she was supposed to have a British accent or not as she seemed to keep sliding in and out of it.  Lester hands in a decent turn as the man who may or may not be played for a fool, used as a figure for his grandfather's civil rights history.

There are three performances otherwise that I think really stand out.  First, you've got Larry Hagman playing a potential rival in the primary.  This is probably the best acting I've ever seen Hagman give, almost a good version of Gov. Stanton, saying the right things and maybe...just maybe...meaning them a little more.  Thornton is amazing as always, as the more than a little redneck campaign head Richard Jemmons.  And if Kathy Bates isn't at least nominated for her turn as the ball-busting (literally) Libby Holden, then I don't know what the Oscars are coming to.  She's funny and frightening and well...crazy.  And of course, there's plenty of other familiar faces that deliver in this flick, but lest I eat up even more of my server space, we shall forego the bestowing of individual laurels and state that this is probably the best ensemble cast I've seen this year.

Even if you're sick of the trials and tribulations of the American government, go see this one if for no other reason than to see this cast in action, and to see a very interesting portrait of what lows American politics have sunk to.

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