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With: Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bill Pullman, Kim Allen, Michael Stahl-David, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey Donovan, Doug McKeon, Michael Mosley
Written by: Joey Hartstone
Directed by: Rob Reiner
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/03/2017

LBJ (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Transparent Vice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Approaching this true story with his usual sense of lightness and simplicity, and with a lack of complexities or nuance, director Rob Reiner takes a compassionate look at an unsung American President.

In LBJ, Lyndon B. Johnson (Woody Harrelson) decides to run for U.S. President, risking his position as majority leader in the senate. When John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) wins the nomination, Johnson reluctantly accepts the offer to be Kennedy's running mate. As a southerner, Johnson is expected to help influence other southerners — especially the powerful Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) — in passing the Civil Rights bill.

But progress is slow. Moreover, attorney general Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) doesn't like Johnson and tries to block his efforts. Then, in November of 1963, Johnson finds himself thrust into the presidency. Realizing the size of the shoes he must fill, he decides to go forward with Civil Rights, fighting with everything he has.

It has been a while since Reiner took on political material, going all the way back to A Few Good Men, The American President, and Ghosts of Mississippi, but LBJ fits right in with them. It's not particularly deep, though; it's no Selma or Jackie. The goal here seems less to present the facts of the case than it is to paint a sympathetic portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson, and in that, it succeeds.

Behind his mountain of makeup, Woody Harrelson gives a sturdy performance, barking commands at underlings, but secretly looking for acceptance. He wanted to be president, but not like this. In this movie Bobby Kennedy — usually shown as kind and benevolent — is something of a petulant little boy, so it's easy to side with Johnson, especially when, in a private moment, the VP lets his guard down and asks "why don't you like me?"

Unfortunately, Reiner glosses over a fair share of little details when they don't help with his themes, and, for a movie about the Civil Rights movement, it doesn't have much use for African-American characters, but the result is still easy and entertaining.

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