2016 saw two productions about late President, Lyndon Johnson: the first was made-for-TV’s All The Way, starring Bryan Cranston. The second was Rob Reiner’s feature, LBJ. The former concentrated on the political manoeuvring Johnson had to negotiate in order to get the Civil Rights Bill passed. LBJ is more about the ambitious politician, and the way in which Kennedy’s election and subsequent death, shaped his career.
Woody Harrelson is outstanding as the larger-than-life Texan who goes from Senate Majority Leader, to Vice President, then unexpectedly to President, with the assassination of Kennedy in 1963. Alongside Johnson was his ever-popular wife, Lady Bird, a bravura turn for Jennifer Jason Leigh. Kennedy himself (Jeffrey Donovan) doesn’t get much screen time, more being dedicated to Johnson’s nemesis, Bobby Kennedy, solidly portrayed by Michael Stahl-David. The actor’s actor, Richard Jenkins, rounds out the cast in the fantastic role as Johnson mentor and anti-civil-rights campaigner, Richard Russell.
This is a surprisingly gripping, fascinating and often humorous cinematic work. Joey Harstone has written a tight screenplay, moving the action from the fateful day in Dallas, to a few years before, and back again. Unlike some films structured in this way, LBJ works beautifully, presenting Johnson’s character to us in layers, rather than in a predictable chronology.
Reiner has directed a work which is neither a tedious history lesson, nor a hagiography. This is first-and-foremost a totally engaging piece of film-making.
LBJ screened recently as part of the Young at Heart Film Festival and is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on demand.
Check out the official site here.