LBJ is not a biopic that begins at birth and shows the pathway to the presidency but instead begins just years before LBJ joins the Kennedy administration. There are few personal or private scenes, this is about the politics of the time and shares insight into some of the most well known moments in American history. It also touches on a current hot topic, the divide in the country between the north and the south.
As is stated in the film, “The Kennedy brothers don’t speak Southern and the south doesn’t speak Kennedy.” LBJ was the reluctant intermediary between these two worlds. He never quite finds his footing and after gaining the presidency due to Kennedy’s assassination became the only sitting president to not run for reelection.
“The only thing more annoying than a liberal is a liberal from Texas,” boasts Bill Pullman as Ralph Yarborough. LBJ feels like an outsider in the freshly scrubbed, playboy administration of the Kennedy’s. They have a slippery relationship where LBJ interacts more often with Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy than with the president.
LBJ is played with gusto by Woody Harrelson who is almost unrecognizable under the extensive makeup. He is matched with an equally efficient but dull performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Their marriage, as well as most relationships in the film, come off as passionless, lifeless and drab.
The Kennedy brothers are played by Jeffrey Donovan (John) and Michael Stahl-David (Bobby). Neither could pass visually as the brothers but they seem to be comfortable with the voices, mannerisms and austere body language of the infamous men.
Arguably the most compelling scenes are those before, during and after Kennedy’s assassination. There is a marked lack of emotion surrounding the incident and the interspersing of the archived and new footage is stunning.
With little attention to the human experience, unless one is greatly moved by and interested in the minute details of political procedures, viewers may feel shorted by what is covered in this picture.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Joey Hartstone
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan
Release date: November 3, 2017
MPAA rating: R