Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)
Review: In 1960 the Democratic Party was in a state of upheaval, with several prominent figures such as Senators Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson), and former Governor Adlai Stevenson as most likely to come out of the pack to become the nominee for the presidency. Instead, the youthful junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), became the nominee and went on to win the closely contested election over Richard Nixon. In order to win the election, Kennedy realized he had to carry Texas, and so Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson was asked to be the vice president on the Democratic ticket.
Once in the Oval Office, President Kennedy and his brother Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) had reservations about bringing the vice president into the inner circle of their closest advisors when policy was being formulated. While Johnson had been valuable to get votes in the election, he was seen as a southerner who was not part of the Camelot vision to improve the country, especially in terms of civil rights. Johnson was aware of this stigma, and did his best to corral support for President Kennedy’s policies by means of his many political connections and procedural savvy. Then came that fateful day on November 23, 1963, when the oft maligned vice president was thrust into the office of the presidency. How President Johnson acted in his time in office was to have a significant impact on the nation for years to come, especially in the area of civil rights.
This is a powerful film by director Rob Reiner, part biography of LBJ, and part historical drama relating the events behind the choosing of Johnson as vice president, and explaining Johnson’s success in maneuvering bills through the Senate and signed into law. Johnson was often vulgar in his dealings with people, but the man possessed a shrewd intelligence that made him a master of negotiating within the political system. One can only wonder why such individuals are not found in today’s Congress with it’s total gridlock on legislative action. A powerful film that is riveting for anyone with an interest in history. Woody Harrelson turns in a dramatic performance that deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Mini Trailers: Johnson to Sen Dirksen – “Senator, can we bring this bill to the floor without our parties nipping at each other’s heels like a pack of rabid dogs?”
Johnson watching JFK on TV – “I have never seen a politician look that good on TV.” Wife Lady Bird – “He’s not that handsome.”
Johnson – “If you don’t take me down in the first two rounds, you’re going to lose.” Bobby Kennedy – “There won’t be a second round.” Johnson – “You sound awfully confident.” Bobby Kennedy – “I can count.”
Johnson – “I could walk across the Potomac River, and the next day newspaper headlines would say, “Johnson Can’t Swim!””
JFK to Advisors – “It is your job to placate the vice president. I don’t care if you have to kiss his ass all over town!”
Johnson – “The southerners don’t speak Kennedy, and the Kennedys don’t speak southern. I am the only one fluent in both languages.”
Bobby Kennedy – “Well Lyndon, if you are insistent on taking the oath right away, then take the damn oath!”
President Johnson Discussing the Civil Rights Bill – “This time they’ll be fighting two presidents. Never underestimate the martyr’s cause, and the size of a Texan’s balls.”
President Johnson addressing Congress – “John Kennedy gave people hope. We are going to give people results.”
LBJ Stuff – Lyndon Johnson was sometimes referred to as “Landslide Lyndon” in reference to his much disputed initial victory to a Senate seat by 87 votes. He was frequently vulgar in his speech and habits with his aids and associates. It was stated in David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest,” that Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon resigned his office after President Johnson insisted on conducting business while seated on the toilet.