The new biopic from Rob Reiner focuses on the events that led to Texas born Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woody Harrelson) to ascend to the Presidency of the United States after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan).
I had seen another movie (Selma) about the same situation, detailing the 1964 Civil Rights Law, and that movie had some differences int he character of LBJ. It is hard to say which was the real image of LBJ, but both showed him as a brusque, gruff and profane. Both films, however, made LBJ look like a good man.
Reiner’s LBJ is told both in current day (the day of the assassination) and in flashbacks to the 1959-60 Presidential race between Kennedy and Johnson, prior to LBJ being offered the Vice-President slot. The film is weaved together well until the election is completed. Then the story picks up from current day, seeing how LBJ was sworn in as President and began to push JFK’s agenda.
Woody Harrelson is very good in this film the heavy facial prosthetics that he had to wear. Honestly, there were a lot of times when I found myself staring at his face, trying to determine what parts were actually Woody’s face. Despite the distracting makeup, Harrelson displayed a very strong leader who, while perhaps not couth, was desperate for people to connect to him, love him.
It was intriguing to watch Johnson work, a politician at this core, straining to find ways to compromise and to get bills through Congress. Too bad we don’t have anyone like LBJ today, because we certainly need someone like him.
The film was pretty short, so it did not get a chance to really dive deeply into the successes LBJ had. It would have been interesting to see the moments in his life that led to his decision to not run for a second term in 1968 or to go into more specifics about the Vietnam War that was dragging the country into the muck at the time, however, these historic moments were delegated to the boxed text at the end of the film.
Overall, the film delivered an interesting lead character who did some amazing things, but who may not have always done the right thing.