By: Oberst Von Berauscht –
President Lyndon Baines Johnson is one of the most contradictory figures in American history, on one hand pushing through some very progressive social reforms and leading the way in Civil Rights legislation, on the other hand deeply self-conscious and paranoid, and his escalation of the War on Vietnam will forever taint his legacy. LBJ follows the eponymous politician (Woody Harrelson) from his years as John F. Kennedy’s vice president through the assassination and his subsequent assumption of power.
Through about an inch-thick coating of makeup
Woody Harrelson clearly did a great deal of research into Johnson’s mannerisms and speaking style; he disappears into the role almost completely. A challenging feat for a President who has been played by so many other great actors. Woody’s performance particularly nails the way Johnson was able to make himself whatever he needed to be in order to get what he wanted. Johnson was well known for working both sides of an issue and self-consciously taking the side of what was popular. The film delves quite aptly into how that worked for him as a politician most of the time…
That said, the film doesn’t touch much on how that could (and did) also blow up in his face. While the film isn’t covering the timeframe of his Presidency where this is most well known (in relation to the war in Vietnam), ignoring this side to him draws an incomplete picture of the man. The movie only very briefly touches on his need to be loved by the public, a personal failing that other films on his life have conveyed much stronger.
See also, also
The film’s primary fault, though, is that it feels like a re-treading of material without anything new to say. It re-plays numerous scenes depicted in other Johnson-related films coming to the same conclusions as those films. This wouldn’t necessarily be a movie-killing problem if the other LBJ-related films weren’t made so recently. All the Way, Path to War, and a few relevant scenes from Selma, Jackie, and The Butler all did very solid jobs with presenting President Johnson. This version is not only late to the party, but all it brought was a half-eaten bag of cheez-puffs.
“What the shit, Frank?”
Director Rob Reiner should take a little bit of time to re-familiarize himself with his own films of the 1980s-early 1990s. At some point during the mid 1990s he seems to have forgotten how to carry dramatic weight. Even in his off-kilter comedy The Princess Bride or films as wacky as This is Spinal Tap Reiner managed to hit the audience with moments where they can really feel for its characters. In LBJ, even during the JFK assassination sequence (which should be the most affecting moment for an audience), the film comes off cold and unemotional.
LBJ is like watching Rob Reiner play connect-the-dots; it draws a clear picture but doesn’t aspire to anything more.
LBJ (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever LBJ says something crass
Take a Drink: when ever the Kennedy name is mentioned
Do a Shot: each time the story flashes back or forward
Do a Shot: whenever LBJ takes a drink