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Path to War
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61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2005
THE PATH TO WAR is John Frankenheimer's biography of the Vietnam War, told through the prism of the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. The movie, director Frankenheimer's last, was produced and released in 2002 as the United States was preparing to launch a war against Iraq. As such it serves as a cautionary tale with a strong political point of view - the message is simple and strong: Even the best and the brightest can be blinded by optimism, and a quagmire once entered is not easily left.

THE PATH TO WAR spends a great deal of time in cabinet meetings. This is a political drama pitting special advisor Clark Clifford (Donald Sutherland) against Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin) in battle for the heart and mind of President Johnson (Michael Gambon). Clifford is the Dove, the main player advocating restraint and caution viz. Vietnam, while McNamara Hawkishly counsels a steady buildup of American forces. At first English actor Gambon seemed an odd choice for the role of Texas-born Johnson. He fits the part physically, and he's the right age, but his west Texas accent is a bit off the mark. Not terribly off, but he doesn't nail it either. Johnson is a familiar television presence from my youth and his heavy drawl must have made a deep impression. In any event, it was distracting for a while, but Gambon is such a strong actor, and otherwise so right for the part that I stopped worrying about it after a while.

Frankenheimer was a personal friend of Johnson's arch-foe Robert Kennedy, and a generation ago Frankenheimer might have treated Johnson as a bit more of a political monster. Indeed, Johnson the politician could play rough. In one early scene, Johnson gives the mailed-fist-in-the-velvet-glove treatment to Alabama Governor George Wallace (Gary Sinise) when Wallace threatens Johnson's civil rights' initiatives. Later, when speech writer Dick Goodwin (James Frain), the man who `put the music' in Johnson's speeches, tells Johnson that he's leaving to accept a fellowship, Johnson, in the space of perhaps three minutes, bribes, cajoles, and ultimately threatens Goodwin into staying. Still, the ultimate impression of Johnson is of a man whose presidency was ruined because of a misplaced reliance on advisors rather than an innate blood lust. The villains in THE PATH TO WAR are arrogance, an overestimation of America's military capabilities, and a woeful underestimation of North Vietnam's willingness to engage in a prolonged and costly war. The worst player in this cast turns out to be McNamara, who is partly redeemed by his doubts at the end.

THE PATH TO WAR is a very good HBO movie. There aren't many extras on the disk. The making of and cast interviews are very short - three or four minutes per extra - and not terribly informative or insightful. Still, a very strong recommendation for this one.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2004
I hadn't seen this film before the DVD arrived in my letterbox - the name of the Director John Frankenheimer was what originally caught my attention plus it was about Vietnam and the war of my generation.
When the war broke out I remember my father saying it was "an unwinnable war" and of course I had no idea what he meant - he who had served in the AIF in New Guinea in WW11. And so it became obvious watching this brilliant HBO film that with the best will in the world President Johnson and his cohorts had no comprehension of what they were getting into either. It was only later when the reports came back describing how villagers cycled down to a stricken train to help unload it (the lines had been destroyed by US bombing) and painstakingly moved the items on board the train to handlebars of bicycles to be ferried to another train further down the line. How they built devices across rivers to replace blown up bridges, and how they determinedly went on with their lives as best they could that the White House staff realised with growing alarm that they could be in this war forever.
Johnson himself comes across as a man under enormous pressure, much of it caused by his insecurity and self doubts. The rest of course was brought upon him by the Vietnam war,which wrecked his health and eventually him destroyed him.
This is an excellent, accurate portrayal of the machinations of Vietnam as I remember it, and it paints a picture of men trying to grapple with a war they don't understand, fearful of defeat (unthinkable) the escalating cost and Johnson's programmes to help the poor and Civil Rights in danger of being lost as the national budget is blown to smithereens.
Micahel Gambon was magnificent as LBJ, as was Donald Sutherland.
The film is engrossing from beginning to end, in fact the whole DVD package is a must have in my opinion.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2003
Being a huge John Frankenheimer fan, this movie was on my list to see for some time since I don't have HBO. Overall, I wasn't expecting too much from this movie, somehow I have that perception with all made-for-tv movies. The movie certainly has that feel in the first few minutes, with acting that seems a bit forced and wooden. But as the story progressed, I slowly got pulled into the situation and characters of all involved. By the time the movie was over, I was impressed with the portrait provided of LBJ as a troubled man who wanted to do so much for the country, but was held back with a stalemate war. It's expertly directed by Frankenheimer, with his classic visual style that exudes tension with facial close-ups. Gambon does a pretty good job too, although most of his acting in this movie falls into the `concerned man' and the `screaming and yelling man' episodes; it still shows the bi-polar sources pulling at him.
It resonates a bit with the current tensions and war in Iraq (some of this is mentioned in the bonus features), but it still carves out its own identity; when was the last time a President talked about a Great Society? It makes me wonder how significant of a President Johnson could have been (many books defer to this position as well, almost worthy of a place on Mt. Rushmore). But as a youngster, most of the Presidents I've been alive to experience are focused more on cautious outlooks than on civil progression and visionary goals. Of course its all easier said than done, but it seems to me the era visionaries has ceased with Johnson's statement not run for a second term in office.
I know very little of the historic values of past Presidents, but it's a genre I enjoy experiencing in the movies and television. If you watch the West Wing on a regular basis, or just enjoy movies with historical facts and situations (13 days, JFK, All the Presidents Men), then you'll enjoy this movie. I expected little, and I got a home run in return. I think it's a great movie that concludes Frankenheimer's career. I like his work a lot, and he will be missed.
It should be noted that the movie is not 4x3 full frame format. Instead it's in 16x9, anamorphic format; and the transfer I would rate as `good' but not exceptional.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2006
i saw Path to War on HBO once, and wow, it's awesome, but it is also a very long movie, about 3 hours.

Path to war covers LBJ's time from the start of his presidency to the decisions and influences made surrounding the events that lead to the Vietnam War.

the story covers Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense), George Ball (Undersecretary of State), and Clark Clifford, who is good friends with LBJ and works for him.

all three men give their side on the situation in Vietnam and from there, LBJ makes his decisions.

it's really an awesome movie cause you really see two very different points of views, how one side saw Communism as a real threat and Vietnam as the battleground for it and how the other saw that fighting in Vietnam would never end and there would be no loser or winner.

Johnson goes from a loved and admired president after the fall of President Kennedy to a hated and despised man by millions of people. his Great Society is gone in exchange for the war, and all the politics and stress surrounding the times eventualy lead to him announcing that he would not run again in 68.

the movie, much like Thirteen Days (Cuban Missile Crisis) explores more the human thinking, moral side of leaders running the country and how and why they make the decisions they make.

great movie that i highly recommend, especially for History Class concerning the Vietnam War.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2004
Path to War is a very good , very well researched movie . The movie shows Lyndon Johnson as a man who is torn between sending more and more troops into Vietnam while at the same time wondering if the war is winnable. I have read many books about LBJ and am glad a movie sticks with the facts. I am 24 yrs old and hope that the rest of my and the younger generation will take the time to see this movie. Even if you lived in the 60's and already have a opinion about LBJ and Vietnam, please do yourself a favor and watch this movie.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2004
Its always fascinating when a movie comes out that shows the inner workings of Government and/or the White House....to get a sense of how our elected officials tick. To be honest I was not all that familiar with the Vietnam War so this movie provided me with some fascinating insight. All the performances are terrific,
very highly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 24, 2005
As president, the Texas Lyndon Baines Johnson had bigger ideas about the USA than the size of longhorns in his native state. He believed he could fuel the world's largest burgeoning economy, build a Great Society of wealth and equality, end the racial divide and conquer communism all at the same time.

When he found he couldn't do all this -- and that he failed miserably in some efforts -- he turned away from politics and delivered his famous "I shall not seek..." speech from spring 1968.

This movie probably better captures the spirit, emotion and personal drive of LBJ -- especially as it regards his decisions to engage in all out war in Vietnam -- than any of docudrama or film treatment of the man. It shows the man that was LBJ, a president that publicly picked up his beagle by the ears and once showed the White House press corps his surgical scar.

While LBJ's handling of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and a few other events get some time in the biopic, it is the decision making about the Vietnam War that HBO best captured in this movie. Directed by John Frankenheimer and with significant roles for Donald Sutherland and Alec Baldwin as Clark Clifford and Robert McNamara, this film faithfully displays the network of advisors that surrounded LBJ, played well by Michael Gambon.

Perhaps most moving of all scenes is the one where Clifford confronts the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vietnam military commanders. "What is the plan to win the war in Vietnam?" Clifford asked. Stunned, no one has an answer. No scene, real or fictionalized, better summarizes the political life displayed in this film.

Lovers of McNamara's embarassing self-serving documentary, "The Fog of War", will not be pleased to see their hero dethroned in this movie. In the early moments of the conflict, McNamara first straddles the fence on Vietnam, then pushes against doves including George Ball to get LBJ to commit big manpower in southeast Asia (just like he did in real life according to White House transcripts and the book "The Pentagon Papers"). It is a far cry from the story the real McNamara wanted you to believe in his own foggy film.

Whether all or none of the remaining scenes are true is not of much consequence. We all know what happened in Vietnam and we are seeing it played out day after day in Iraq right now, another quagmire in the making. American invovlement in the Vietnam war gave rise to a famous theory of irreversability -- that says the longer you move in one direction, the more difficult it is to reverse that direction.

The time frame on Vietnam in this film is through 1968, when American sentiment turned against the war, as well as the thinking of most American politicians. Still, it was two presidents and seven years later before our involvement terminated. That's why the decision making on display in this movie is as important in 2005 as it was in 1968. This is a fine slice of political life that anyone who has an interest in politics or history should see.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2005
I thought that this movie offered an indepth look at LBJ's presidency. No movie that I have ever seen goes into the "man" and the issues surrounding his administration as well as "Path to War." I thought that all major and supporting actors did a wonderful job as well. If you are interested in history or just the politics of the 1960's this is a must own!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2010
I rarely write reviews because even professional reviewers can be at opposite ends of the pole with their comments and conclusions. In my opinion reviews really get down to personal views and feelings and we are all different. Having said that I have just watched this movie for the 4th time in as many years. I still feel as strongly about this movie as I did when I watched it for the first time. Apart from giving an insight into the difficult decisions the Presidents of the USA had to make and their reasons for the decisions (and we would all love the advantage of hindsight), I wonder whether any of our political leaders have learned the lessons of Vietnam. It seems that the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are mirror images of what is displayed in this movie. Path to War is a gripping and intense lesson in the futility of war. I wish more people would watch and understand it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2010
Path to War is a fine movie. It shows the gradual steps that rationalized America's increased involvement in an undesirable war. This is not an action movie; however, it is a very important study on how well-intentioned presidents lose control while wielding control. And, of course, they are then left to face the consequences of their weighty decisions while the former manipulative politicians bail for cover.

This movie deals with the decisions made by Lyndon B Johnson as he listened to his advisors and tried unsuccessfully to avert greater involvement in Viet Nam. It will help you appreciate why he made the announcement that he would not accept nor seek another term as president.

Many lives were ruined by the decisions and influence of the men portrayed in this movie. War is never waged in a straight line.

I think it is an invaluable addition to any DVD collection on war.
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