If there hadn't been a President Clinton, this would still be a great film - funny, insightful, and wise about political life. Its real achievemnt is in blending real and made-up details in an inventive, involving way: You get swept up in the suspense, see why people are overwhelmed in their campaigns. Presidential candidate Jack Stanton (Travolta) is flawed, charming, and has a weakness for women, but what makes him attractive is that he cares and knows how to be an effective politician. His wife Susan (Thompson) seems in emotional combat with him, yet is loyal to his ideals, and hurt more from his lies than from his actual fooling around. Travolta and Thompson wisely preserve the couple's mysteries. Rather than going behind their bedroom door or eavesdropping on their private talks, the movie remains confronts what we can't understood: a man driven to self-indulgent behavior, and that his wife stays with him. (The "Anonymous' author by now is known as ex-Newsweek writer Joe Klein. )
Centering on campaign aide Henry Burton (Lester), the grandson of a civil rights leader, the films shows how he gets sucked into Stanton's wake. Even before agreeing to join his team, Burton's on a plane with Stanton asleep on his shoulder, after they've attended an illiteracy class. There, a black man (Mykelti Williamson in a moving cameo) tells Stanton his pain at not being able to read. Stanton empathizes: His Uncle Charlie, a Medal of Honor winner, passed up scholarships because he was ashamed to admit his illiteracy, and instead "just lay down and smoked Luckys.' Of course, that might not be true. Later, Henry sees Stanton come out of a hotel room with the woman who runs the illiteracy program. Campaign workers agree: All candidates are flawed, but the ones who have good in them might win.
Jack Stanton is important because of how people talk and obsess about him in his absence. The campaign includes Richard Jemmons (Thornton), based on President' Clinton's strategist James Carville, a cynical realist who provides running commentary on the stages of the campaign; Libby Holden (Bates), the "The Dust-Buster,' is a longtime confidant and recent mental patient who comes out of retirement to dig up dirt before the other side can. Quiet, observant scheduler Daisy (Tierney) also lands in Henry's bed, and a woman from the candidate's home state claims to have tapes to prove he had an affair with her. On TV, Mrs. Stanton holds her husband's hand and defends him but snaps her hand from his as the show goes off air. How should a primary campaign handle damaging information? Jack Stanton says that if they don't, the other side will. "Primary Colors' handles this issue with more insight than most movies, and this one is funny, too, as when the candidate, his wife, and his aides search a roadside one night for a cell phone thrown out in anger.
"Primary Colors' doesn't need to go easy on the Clinton-esque lead, but might actually help us, although it doesn't give us an "answer.' What it does is to show our fascination with the complexity of weak and strong qualities at war with each other. The secret of what makes Jack Stanton tick might yet remain unanswerable.'
Elaine May and Joe Klein
John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Larry Hagman
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