Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Woody Harrelson, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bill Pullman • Rated R
I was trying to imagine Woody Harrelson playing LBJ, the larger-than-real-life character who was a Texas son and President of the United States of America, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Harrelson did an impressive job.
The movie was directed by Rob Reiner, and I always know a Reiner film is going to be entertaining. In this case, under the direction of Reiner, Harrelson takes Lyndon Baines Johnson and shows us the gritty side to politics as well as the personal side to LBJ’s life. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, is played equally well by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Harrelson, of course, is a Texan. Although he doesn’t hail from the same part of Texas, Harrelson likely understood LBJ’s Texas mentality when he stepped into the character of this man.
Physically, the makeup used to morph Harrelson into the 36th president was done so thoroughly you will have to look twice to see the actor in there.
For a biopic, Reiner didn’t overdo it. It’s a little over an hour and a half and it shows the politics Johnson was involved in while at the same time allowing the audience to get more personal glimpses of what was going on as history was being made.
Remember, LBJ was the Senate Majority Leader who was beaten in 1960 when he ran for President, but who then asked to be the Vice President by the man who beat him to the presidency, John F. Kennedy. Reiner digs into this time period when Johnson decides to take the VP position and make it his own, even though he was hated by the president’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, played by Michael Stahl David. Through it all, as a biopic, we know what is coming—as Johnson became the President of the United States after JFK was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
The film reminds us that Johnson was the president responsible for seeing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pass and that he was brought down by America’s involvement in the Vietnam War during his presidency.
Harrelson does a good job of finding the guts of LBJ and twisting him around, so we can see him from all angles. The man was no pushover, that we all know, but there was a depth to him that perhaps history has forgotten. One particularly interesting scene is when Lady Bird explains that her husband just wants to be loved.
Woody Harrelson nailed it.
If we could say just a few words about Lyndon B. Johnson, they would be that he was a man of contradictions. If we say just a few words about the film, they are that Woody Harrelson nailed it and that Reiner brought out the best in this story and the characters, bringing this film to life.
Cover photo | Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Rachel Dudley, and Kim Allen in LBJ. | Photo courtesy IMDB