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Primary Colors

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Primary Colors

Starring: John Travolta, Emma Thompson
Director: Mike Nichols
Rated: R
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: March 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama


*Also starring: Adrian Lester, Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney, Kathy Bates, Larry Hagman, Paul Guilfoyle, Caroline Aaron, Larry King, Rebecca Walker



Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

How many people remember when Bill Clinton, soon after being elected in 1992, appeared in the spring of 1993 mingling with a group of working folks, complete with a hard-hat, tool belt and work boots. Clinton took it upon himself, after the meeting, to discipline an aide using profanity after the aide supposedly stepped out of line during the address. This was evident as the President's microphone was still on and the media had a field day. In fairness to Clinton, every politician has two faces, one for the cameras, and one for the private confrontations with staff, family members and advisers. What's the point of all this? Simple, 'Primary Colors' gives us an insight into the REAL people running for office.

In 1995's 'The American President', Michael Douglas portrayed a stable and popular President who was seen spending time with his daughter over her school work, playing pool in private with his chief of staff and courting a young woman with all the style, personality and conflict of regular people. Although 'Primary Colors' takes a deeper and more iconoclastic look at politics on a much different scale, it has chronological scenes of strategic planning necessary to win a political campaign and it manages to entertain and inform while being precariously off beat.

The major players are John Travolta, simulating brilliantly, a very Clinton-like Presidential candidate, complete with the right hair, weight and upbeat, pleasant southern accent. Given the name Jack Stanton by screenwriter Elaine May, 'Primary Colors' is based on the novel by Anonymous, now revealed to be former Newsweek writer Joe Klein and Stanton's mannerism is that of a man who cares about the people, even in private as his campaign candidly admits that their political tricks are a defensive mechanism to prevent the status quo from stealing the election. One scene has Stanton sitting alone in a doughnut shop talking to a doughnut baker and night server, an employee who works long hours for little money. Stanton realizes that these are the real people, the majority avoiding the trappings of special interest. It's a very memorable scene.

At his side is Stanton's wife and aspiring first lady, portrayed impressively by Emma Thompson who loses her English accent completely to play an American. Stanton is joined in his quest for the White House by Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), who is the grandson of a civil rights leader and the story is told largely from his point of view. Billy Bob Thornton ('Sling Blade') is an adviser to Stanton who never lets his true redneck colors interfere with the strategy of winning the people over. Rounding out the perennial cast of memorable players is Kathy Bates as a political spin doctor, brought in to counter the dirty tricks of Stanton's opponents. Her contribution to the film is of the highest calibre and she is already a candidate for a Supporting Actress Oscar next year.

'Primary Colors' asks us to believe nothing,. Using very adult language and situations, it only intends to expose the inner workings of a presidential campaign as its running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes is a swift one as director Mike Nichols re-invents the characters situations many times to seem like their fresh when they are really relevant to the previous scenes of vigour, reality and determination to conquer the only cherished object of politics.....power. And while the film lacks a certain amount of depth, it makes up for it by itemizing the true nature of what politicians are, fallible human beings like the rest of us.

Copyright 1998 Walter Frith

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