Rated: R for language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: November 3, 2017 Released by: Electric Entertainment
Rob Reiner directs and co-produces LBJ which is his first political film since The American President. Sad to report it's more vanilla than the Michael Douglas/Annette Bening starrer, but at least it has Woody Harrelson (Wilson, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Hunger Games) in the eponymous, ebullient role.
A non-linear approach from scribe Joey Hartstone pivots around the fateful week in November 1963 looking at the West Texas powerful Senate majority leader with his candidacy quest into a less prominent Vice President before thrust into the role of Commander-in-Chief.
Harrelson's approach seems to be at odds with the political upheaval when it comes to a nation's healing and the push to get the Civil Rights Act passed - authority figure as arbitrator as was done by Steven Spielberg in the compelling, less rushed Lincoln. Plenty of latex makeup/prosthetics helps enlighten Johnson's appearance even if the versatile actor really bears little resemblance to him. Also, encased under much makeup is Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hard Eight) as Lady Bird Johnson in a garden-variety role, kind of an encapsulation of the overall proceedings.
The filmmaking avers the importance of its subject and events evident from the score and dialogue; Harrelson's punchiness can only disguise how deceptive this actually is. In Johnson's orbit are the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy (Kim Allen) and Pierre Salinger (Rich Summer). Not to mention the reliable Bill Pullman as Sen. Yarborough and Richard Jenkins as a more notably Georgia Senator Richard Russell, Jr. embodying the resister aspect of the South. Maybe Jeffrey Donovan as John F. Kennedy makes more of a surprising impression (he also once filled the part of brother Robert in J. Edgar) in his screen time.
LBJ does have a more upbeat conclusion in not so much a fair-minded depiction as the particular timeframe skirts around the buildup of the Vietnam War which would impact a legacy. Yet, having a look at Harrelson's insouciant braggadocio and compromise may be enough of a diversion for something this commonplace for a character appearing of late in more meaningful releases like Selma and Jackie.