1998; Rated R; 140 Minutes
John Travolta: Governor Jack Stanton
Emma Thompson: Susan Stanton
Billy Bob Thornton: Richard Jemmons
Adrian Lester: Henry Burton
Maura Tierney: Daisy Green
Kathy Bates: Libby Holden
Michael Haley, Michele Imperato, Jonathan D. Krane, Neil
A. Machlis and Mike Nichols; Directed by Mike Nichols,
Screenwritten by Elaine May
by DAVID KEYES
media's obsession with the Clinton scandal has grown so
overwhelmingly large in broadcast that sometimes, we feel
like we know them personally. Their lives are essentially
always in the spotlight: the stories of how Hillary controls
her husband, how he sneaks away into the oval office for
sex sessions with an intern, and how these things spawned
a definite possibility of Clinton becoming the first president
to be impeached and removed from office seem like events
that you only read in false tabloids. But because they are
real and swarmed by media coverage, mixed reactions are
provoked by us, the viewers. Love them or hate them, the
Clintons have lives that are played out as much as they
can be on camera. The scenario of the whole controversy
about our President having 'inappropriate' relations with
a woman half his age feels more like a twist right out of
the script of a Soap Opera. The similarity? Both are bizarre.
The difference? One of them does not follow the script.
The way the Clinton scandal has emerged, no one can predict
what kinds of twists and turns lie ahead.
we are exposed to the real lives of these people on television,
we are confronted with similar insights on the movie screen.
The recent Hollywood political satires are strange yet fascinating
examinations of everyone's favorite government figures,
although that doesn't seem to be a filmmaker's intention.
The are 'fictionalized' stories of ironically similar political
situations, and sometimes, they develop so closely to reality
that it's as if we're watching historical satire rather
than just an artificial one. In 1997, the events brought
on by a growing Clinton scandal prompted "Wag The Dog,"
a film about a movie director who makes up a fake war to
distract attention from the presidential controversy. The
recent actions at the White House seem to follow closely
to those of the movie a year ago. Clinton orders bomb attacks
on Iraq--who doesn't think that this was a last-minute attempt
to distract attention from impeachment hearings. Maybe the
president watches these movies and is inspired. Next thing
you know, he'll start being rude to his public, like the
politician in "Bulworth."
there are differences between "Wag The Dog," "Bulworth"
and the astonishing Mike Nichols film, "Primary Colors."
This is a movie that tells a similarly-structured story
without the intention of ruining the politician's image.
Some even suggest that this movie would help the public
views on Clinton. Why? We get to meet Governor Jack Stanton
(John Travolta) for the person he really is--a foul-mouthed,
bed-hopping, pig-headed, heavy-eating politician who's anxious
to be our country's great leader, no matter what the cost.
The way he looks and thinks reminds us of our very own president,
and both commit moral crimes against the nation, which are
seen by the public. The only thing not seen is Clinton's
actual private life. Stanton develops in a way that Clinton
cannot: we meet him directly, watch his personality flaws
surface, examine his every move, and follow his campaign
throughout the nation as he is suspected of these false
sexual accusations which he tries to subvert. With real
life, the media points the finger at Clinton and he barely
has enough time to react. He can't have a camera follow
him around all day like this. The movie would likely try
to make him out to be something great which he is not. When
it came down to the grand jury testimony, how would we ever
be convinced that he is telling the truth?
Colors" has all the right intentions; it peals back our
social interaction with the governments affairs and exposes
what we fear; oh yes, these are human beings. Hard to believe,
isn't it? Even harder to believe, it's not always the political
figure who is the total fault. Sometimes, others can contribute
to the mayhem brought on by the media. But of course, you
probably already know that. Just look at Kenneth Starr.
on a high note and staying there every step of the way,
"Primary Colors" is a study of the human tendency of making
mistakes, how we cope with it, how we recover, and how we
can possibly convince our admirers from understanding. Stanton
has a thing for jumping on any woman that breathes, yes,
but that's beside the point; if most people really thought
that he was this over-horny politician, they would not elect
him president. So the movie tries to manipulate us onto
his side. And it does it successfully. It puts are faith
into Stanton and never lets it go. Even when he is guilty
of one of his sexual crimes, we still admire him, because
he is, after all, human like us. He brings a certain arrogant
charm to a character with faults and problems, and he brainwashes
us to honestly, truthfully believe that this is the man
we want to run our country. Travolta's on-screen performance
is even more convincing than Clinton's was when he was reelected
other roles are just as astonishing and convincing. Kathy
Bates plays Libby Holden, a maniacal lesbian whose assignment
in Stanton's campaign is to ensure that, if any negative
evidence turns up, they find it first. That would protect
his image. Emma Thompson, as Jack's wife Susan, is another
Oscar-worthy performance. She escalates on the screen so
magnificently and fluently that this could almost be a movie
strictly about her. She is Hillary Clinton. Billy Bob Thornton
as Richard Jemmons is not as strong a performance as his
one from "Sling Blade," but for a political satire, it's
appropriate. He's sort of a duplicate of Clinton's office
official James Carville. Other performances, of course,
resemble other White House officials, and as the movie progresses
them together, the movie gets this sort of documentary-feel
to it, as if it really did tell us about Clinton's rise
to power. The only difference is here, we understand why
Jack does the things he does (sort of).
only human, and human's make mistakes. Just as long as this
story doesn't go to trial, he should be fine.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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