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After Lyndon B. Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. Once they win the election, despite his extensive experience and shrewd instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of vice president. But, that all changes on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson is suddenly thrust into the presidency. As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with adversaries as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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It's watchable, and that's about as far as it goes. The pace is dreadfully slow, the time shifts are hard to follow. I was alive when this happened and an eager student of history; it was still hard to follow.
LBJ, JFK, and RFK all had so much more dramatic character that was left on the cutting room floor. Heck, it wasn't left, it was never picked up on. No effort was made to present their complex characters, and the complex relationships between them. There was no love lost between the Kennedy's and LBJ; but their strained relations, and LBJ's descent into depression, is the stuff great films are made of. All 3 of these men sought power, none more than LBJ. Yet none of these actors showed the fire in the belly that made their characters legends. They sought and used it for different reasons, but they were all made of the same stuff. The hatred between RFK and LBJ could be a movie in itself.
Woody Harrelson can act, but not in this film. He looks like a man who's afraid to say boo in virtually every sequence; as we all know, that was not LBJ. Actors don't need to recreate characters exactly, but we should understand what makes them tick. We never get that with Harrelson LBJ was an enormously complex man, full of contradictions -- mostly a not-great guy. But what made him so interesting was that in addition to his narcissism and ruthless quest for power, he was propelled by his poor background, and by being laughed at for being poor. This drove him to champion the Great Society and pass an enormous amount of legislation. The story in the film about his concern over his cook's difficulty in traveling (with her husband) is true. Had LBJ merely been the power-hungry brutal man we mostly know, we would know him as a brute and a liar, and that would be that. But his shame over his impoverished upbringing and his sympathy for the poor put him at odds with himself - and that is the stuff of epic drama.
Unfortunately, not here.
My apologies to the actors, but it's hard to imagine that the casting of JFK and RFK could have been any worse. The actor playing JFK has very close-set eyes, and unfortunately that prevents him from looking as intelligent, reasoned, and literate as JFK truly was. Nor does his acting come off as intelligent. JFK has totally gone missing in this film.
RFK lacked the fire that drove him. All too often he comes off as a schoolboy -- when in fact he was exceedingly shrewd and strategic, and the mastermind behind JFK's election to both the Senate and the presidency.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderful as Lady Bird. I think their relationship is probably overly romanticized; he treated her like s--t. Nonetheless, she steals the film.
Wish I could say the same for the actress who plays Jackie Kennedy. She stands there as LBJ is sworn in, looking totally vapid. Whatever you think about Jackie Kennedy, she was not vapid. It would have been great to see someone exude her graciousness We need reminders about why these people captured our imagination and remain legends today.
Too bad. All the best stuff about these leaders and the times they led never surface in this film.
But still "watchable." Just don't let it be your information source on this key era and the people at the helm. Read, read, read! Or watch JFK and RFK speeches on YouTube. You'll ache with longing that we have no one like them today. The world would be a very different place if JFK, and even more, RFK, had lived.