“LBJ” stars Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, Michael Stahl-David, Jeffrey Donovan, C. Thomas Howell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Released on November 3, 2017, the film has Lyndon B. Johnson fighting to pass the Civil Rights Act.
The film is directed by Rob Reiner, who also directed films such as This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, The Bucket List, and The Magic of Belle Isle. It’s no mystery that I was unfamiliar with former president Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as vice president for John F. Kennedy before Kennedy’s death in 1963. The events surrounding Kennedy’s assassination has been told many times in certain types of media, including last year’s Oscar-nominated drama, Jackie. While that movie focuses on Kennedy’s wife before and after the assassination, this latest political drama shares the same experience, but from Johnson’s perspective. I hadn’t really heard about this film in terms of the marketing, but I went into it anyway because of the cast, especially Woody Harrelson. The film already made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2016 before receiving a regular North America release a year later. Since I usually review films that only have a regular release (excluding festival releases), I will count it as a 2017 release.
The story’s first act involves the perspective of Lyndon B. Johnson (Harrelson) before, during, and after the tragic death of John F. Kennedy in a non-linear narrative. The rest of the film focuses on Johnson’s presidency as he attempts to accomplish Kennedy’s goal of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. While not his best performance, Woody Harrelson was able to impress me enough to believe that he can carry this film on his own. As for the story itself, I found the concept pretty interesting not only because of how people reacted to the surprising demise of Kennedy, especially those around him, but also because of Johnson’s accomplishment that makes us respect our differences towards one another. Unfortunately, Reiner was unable to find the exact spark that makes this event more significant compared to the other biopics. In terms of storytelling, the first act was pretty good, in my opinion, but then the film slowly started to get stale as it went on. Instead of just exploring the characters in a more personal light, the film comes off as a bland step-by-step biopic that examines Johnson and his journey towards his personal agenda without the inspiration. On the plus side, the pacing and its cinematography were decent enough to keep my interest.
Overall, with a talented cast and an interesting concept, “LBJ” could’ve been something special. Instead, it went off to become an underwhelming and uninspired biopic that lacks the emotional impact of one of Johnson’s most daring accomplishments as president. So if you’re hoping that this would be the next “Jackie”, chances are your hopes are going to be dashed by the time Kennedy bites the dust. If you’re still interested in seeing it, you’re better off renting it from Redbox or watching it on television, but that's just my opinion.