When I learned that Woody Harrelson was taking the lead role as President Lyndon B. Johnson in a biopic directed by Rob Reiner, “LBJ,” I was not sure what to expect of his performance. In the theater viewing the film, I did not recognize him at first because of the make-up, but after a couple of scenes, there is no doubt that Harrelson has done all that is needed to believe we are viewing the tall Texan himself, flaws and all. Reiner directs “LBJ” from a Joey Hartstone (“Shock and Awe,” “The Good Flight”) script with different time periods. From Johnson in the late 50s/early 60s as the Senate Majority Leader (SML) to his term as Kennedy’s Vice President, and through the presidency, the story is clear and can be understood by the audience of diverse ages.
Although other films have been made about Johnson, his presidency and legacy from the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the script digs deeper to show another side of this tough as nails leader, who actually has a side he rarely demonstrated except when with his lovely wife, Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh). There is a scene of pillow talk between the two that shows the public just how human he is and shares his thoughts on how the public views him.
Harrelson (a fellow Texan himself) does not hold back from demonstrating how Johnson bellows at this staff and colleagues, to the point of sounding like a bully, including fellow Texan Ralph Yarborough (Bill Pullman), when he wants information or to dominate a situation that he is interested in. His manipulative style and obscenities are not nice, but watching Harrelson deliver these lines almost appears comedic despite how factual the statements are.
Aside from Lady Bird, the one person who he does confide in is the Georgia senator Richard Russell Jr. (Richard Jenkins), and there are some very good dramatic scenes between the two that keeps the audience engaged. Jenkins delivers an excellent performance as first a friend, but changes arise after Johnson makes decisions and takes action against Russell’s beliefs.
JFK (Jeffrey Donovan) and his brother, Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David), discuss making Johnson as a running mate and those scenes are very informative and enlightening as to how they each viewed the SML, yet know the talent he has for communicating and negotiating members from each political side. It is very interesting to view the scenes of almost dual personalities.
JFK’s assassination is never easy to watch on any size screen and this film takes us there. What we also view is Johnson becoming president and how he committed himself to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a film I highly recommend, given the current society we are in and how so many may not be fully informed or aware of what it took to get this act passed.
This may not be everyone’s cup of tea as far as artistic filmmaking, but it is one that reaches out directly to the people who view it and makes an impact. Hopefully, this will start the conversations flowing long after leaving the theater.
View the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLIH0mm1LuA
The film is rated R and the running time is an hour and 38 minutes. The film is available for viewing in Austin theaters, so check your local listings for show times in your area.
This film was viewed at The LBJ School of Public Affairs when they hosted an advance screening of the major motion picture “LBJ” with Rob Reiner and Woody Harrelson in attendance. They participated in a panel discussion with American historian and UT professor H.W. Brands and The Honorable Julián Castro moderated the panel in the Lady Bird Auditorium on the UT – Austin campus. The Honorable Julián Castro, Former HUD Secretary, is a Dean’s Distinguished Fellow and Fellow of the Davila Chair in International Trade Policy at the LBJ School. Brands, a professor, is presidential historian from UT’s Department of History.
By Liz Lopez
Source: Electric Entertainment