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Path to War Reviews

Despite the distinguished cast's superb impersonations of Vietnam–era figures, this dour docudrama is undermined by a curiously remote quality. Campaigning on a peace platform, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson (Michael Gambon), former-Vice President to the assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy, defeats Republican senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election and enjoys the fruits of victory at his inaugural ball on January 20, 1965. LBJ takes office with high hopes, promoting civil rights and the war on poverty. But an unresolved international issue is already distracting his attention from campaign promises: What will become the quagmire of Vietnam. Pentagon big shots rally around the cause of defeating Communism, and LBJ subscribes to their domino theory — once one regime falls to Communism, others will follow. Ignoring the advice of Under-Secretary of State George Ball (Bruce McGill), LBJ becomes hypnotized by his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin), and supports his rolling thunder policy. But McNamara's "unassailable" facts and figures don't matter in the face of the realities of guerilla warfare in a jungle landscape unfamiliar to American military forces. American air strikes are soon replaced by incursions by ground troops. On the domestic front, LBJ proves himself a master strategist, capable of keeping even Alabama gevernor George Wallace (Gary Sinise), a virulent segregationistin, line; but the escalating war abroad is constantly in the spotlight. Though McNamara was a tireless cheerleader for the escalation of hostilities in Southeast Asia, he begins harboring doubts as the Vietnam War bitterly divides the nation. LBJ's dreams of a Great Society crumble as American servicemen sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of an antiquated concept of American sovereignty. The War weakens LBJ's credibility during his term of office and ultimately cast a shadow over his legacy. Though director John Frankenheimer's storytelling skill is evident throughout, writer Daniel Giat's script gets lost in the details of maneuvering by LBJ's contentious advisors, and the result is more than a little grueling. The film's ambitions are admirable, but LBJ's emotional agonies are never as emotionally compelling as they ought to be and are overwhelmed by the follies of his administration.