LBJ –Review by Susan Granger

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There’s no question that Lyndon Baines Johnson had his eye on the White House during his tenure as Senate Majority Leader. But being a good poker player and canny pragmatist, he knew when to ‘hold ‘em’ and when to ‘fold ‘em,’ which is why he agreed to run as John F. Kennedy’s Vice-President after failing to get the 1960 Democratic nomination for himself. Continue reading…

“Lyndon, you have more experience and more talent and more wisdom,” Kennedy admits. “Unfortunately, this is politics and none of that matters.”

This historical biopic begins in Texas on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) is assassinated and Johnson (Woody Harrelson), with his supportive wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at his side, is suddenly thrust into the Oval Office, much to the disgust of his longtime adversary Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David).

The racist Southern caucus, led by Georgia’s venomous Sen. Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), assumes that LBJ will torpedo Kennedy’s contentious Civil Rights Act, only to discover that, as the new President, LBJ is determined to solidify Kennedy’s legacy by championing the causes on which he won the election.

As Johnson cynically puts it: while charismatic Kennedy was the “show horse,” he’s the “work horse.” Under LBJ’s leadership, the progressive Medicare, Medicad and Head Start programs were implemented.

Scripted by first-time screenwriter Joey Hartstone and directed by Rob Reiner, it’s not only underdeveloped, even contrived at times, but also weighed down by a jumbled, non-linear time frame that turns out to be a major distraction. And Johnson’s fatal escalation of the United States’ involvement the Vietnam War is barely mentioned.

Wearing a toupee, prosthetics, horn-rimmed glasses and platform shoes, Woody Harrelson delivers a powerhouse performance, but he never quite captures LBJ’s ability to intimidate his adversaries.

The 36th President has already been portrayed by Liev Schreiber (“The Butler”), Tom Wilkinson (“Selma”) John Carroll Lynch (“Jackie”) and Bryan Cranston (“All the Way”). And since historian Robert Caro is still working on his multi-volume biography, more actors will inevitably play LBJ in the future.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “LBJ” is a straightforward 6, a solid political drama.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.