LBJ follows Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) both before, during and after the event of the assassination of John F. Kennedy which resulted in his sudden accession to the role of President of the United States. Directed by Rob Reiner (who directed one of my favourite movies of ALL TIME The Princess Bride so maybe I should award this movie 10/10 just for that) and starring Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) as the titular character, this film depicts a moment of flux within American Politics and how it affected one man.
Now I loved this film. I study history at university, so I’m a big nerd who took an American history course based in the 1960s where there were like 2 lectures on LBJ. Safe to say, I think he’s a bit of a mad lad with both pros and cons. This movie really appealed to me because I knew of LBJ and what he did. But I think that if you knew nothing about LBJ other than that his name was LBJ, this film gave a pretty solid picture of him as a politician.
A real advantage to the film was that it was subtly informative. There wasn’t loads and loads of pre-exposition about LBJ and his life. They provided the information you needed to understand the events of the film and then a little bit of the after the events, and it worked really well. It wasn’t too ‘history-ish’, and it was really easy to follow and understand.
The acting was pretty good, Harrelson was able to convey quite a bit of emotion under all the prosthetics he needed and the actors who played the people surrounding JFK, especially Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield) as Bobby Kennedy were excellent. Another stand-out for me was Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) as Senator Richard Russell who in his minimal number of scenes was really able to convey a huge mindset of America during the 60s.
I also really enjoyed the music and cinematography throughout the film. They also did an excellent job of editing the movie between the before and during the assassination without missing too much of the information of either, but still keeping it concise to the plot and characters and not overloading the audience with too much of basically nothing.
My problem with LBJ is that I think it was too much of an Oscar bait movie. I tend not to enjoy movies that appeal to the Academy group because I feel that they can be very fake. I think that this film, although good, and one that I enjoyed felt very much steeped in the political climate that America is now involved within and trying to make a point about that. Throughout the film it feels as though the people behind this movie were trying to remember a moment of politics where things were in flux, but for the better. LBJ passed civil rights laws and healthcare laws, JFK is widely remembered as a top bloke, but I feel like that is the point. There were astounding moments of hopeful dialogue and poignant moments, but it all feels a bit too staged for that golden statue, almost like this film was catering for that audience and knew precisely how to get it.
This felt especially clear when they were discussing the Civil Rights movement. With how things are at the moment in America, this movie is one in a very long chain of films which touch upon the civil rights movement and JFK’s presidency. There are so many movies or TV shows which feature JFK especially in the last couple of years, I can name 5 off of the top of my head including this one, and quite frankly, I’m a little tired of it. I think that focusing so much on this moment in films is starting to get old and that there are moments of American political history which are just as ground-breaking and interesting as one month in 1963.
Because of this focus on the civil rights movement bill, it felt like the film was lacking depth, especially surrounding LBJ. As I stated earlier, I quite like LBJ as a person, there is an official White House recording of him asking for pants with a deeper crotch where he uses the word ‘bung-hole’ and although this personality is touched upon in the film, it never really shines. It just shows LBJ as being brash, sometimes a bit more forward than socially acceptable and a man with ‘foul’ language. I think that in focusing so much on a one single moment, that they lose sight of LBJ and what his motives and ambitions were and instead tried to grab that Oscar nomination that they never actually got.
Overall, LBJ is a good film. It’s got some great moments and messages, with nicely executed editing, cinematography, acting and soundtrack, it doesn’t overload or underload you with information. You get what you need for this film, and that’s great. But the catering for the American political present and Oscar-baiting was a bit much for me, making it a good movie, but not a great one.