Primary Colors

A winner. Streamlined by director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May, Joe Klein's sprawling, thinly veiled roman a clef about the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign becomes an intelligent and very funny satire about the bloody game of American politics. In a media-driven world of sound bites and spin doctors, young and stubbornly idealistic Henry...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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A winner. Streamlined by director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May, Joe Klein's sprawling, thinly veiled roman a clef about the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign becomes an intelligent and very funny satire about the bloody game of American politics. In a

media-driven world of sound bites and spin doctors, young and stubbornly idealistic Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) continues to believe in the possibility of a politician who actually cares about the American people. His hopes are pinned on Democratic Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta), a

deceptively laid-back good ol' boy from an unnamed Southern state, who's making a run for the White House alongside his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson). And Stanton just might make it, unless he's derailed by the storm of unsavory scandal -- adultery, draft-dodging, pregnant teenage

girls -- that shadows his every step. Together with Stanton's campaign posse -- which includes a redneck-and-proud-of-it political strategist (Billy Bob Thornton), a perky media consultant (Maura Tierney) and a barely sane, turbo-powered fixer (Kathy Bates) -- Henry tries to pull his candidate

through one of the strangest presidential campaigns in U.S. history without losing his own soul. The irony, of course, is that in the two years since Klein's novel was published, the sort of outrageous shenanigans that made Primary Colors a cause celebre have become real-life news. Nichols

and May took the only smart approach possible: turning gossip into biting satire; focusing on the themes of honor and the price of leadership that elevated the novel above mere muckraking; and adding their own brand of humor, sophisticated but never too highbrow to snub hilariously vulgar language

or a perfectly timed pratfall. And then there's that dream team of an ensemble cast: Thornton, Bates and Thompson bounce off one another and throw sparks, while Larry Hagman does a brief but surprisingly strong turn as Stanton's tragically flawed political opponent. In the center of it all is

Travolta, complete with raspy drawl, steely-eyed squint and a gut that can only come from donuts and baby-back ribs. It's a spot-on Clinton impersonation, tempered with enough smarts and compassion to boost it several notches above simple caricature.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A winner. Streamlined by director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May, Joe Klein's sprawling, thinly veiled roman a clef about the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign becomes an intelligent and very funny satire about the bloody game of American politi… (more)

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