Primary Colors is more than a retelling of the 1992 Clinton campaign; it’s an in-depth look at the political machine. Surprisingly, the film does not belong to John Travolta. Yes, Travolta is in the film, but Adrian Lester is the one to watch.
Primary Colors follows the presidential campaign of Jack Stanton (John Travolta) who is a man of virtue that will not go dirty in order to win a campaign. He is a man who stops being a politician and starts telling the truth. In addition to his headstrong and clear-headed wife, Susan (Emma Thomson), Stanton has a great campaign team behind him: Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), and Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).
As in the real Clinton campaign, we have this historical stuff: a womanizing president, the ‘other woman,’ and the spin-doctors that try to hide the Presidential candidate’s misdeeds.
The posters feature Travolta and Thomson prominently, but that is only a way to draw the crowd in. Yes, they have big roles, but they are not the main characters. Henry Burton, played well by Adrian Lester, is the main character, and we see the campaign through his eyes. Burton is at first reluctant to join up with Stanton as his campaign manager. After seeing how selflessly Stanton reacted to group of illiterate adults who took their own time to learn to read, Burton reconsiders.
In addition, we are introduced to the moral issues through him. Lester handles his role beautifully and draws us into the film.
The main scene-stealer, next to Lester, is Kathy Bates as the loud potty-mouthed dirt digger, Libby Holden. Her character becomes pivotal late in the movie. Bates, who I last saw in Titanic, has more to do here and she handles it well. I loved the scene in which she goes to talk to a tabloid news guy about an audio tape.
Travolta is Bill Clinton. He has the speech patterns, voice, and mannerisms of Bill Clinton so well that it’s scary. Though Emma Thomson has nothing in common with Hilary, she plays her part well.
The script by Elaine May is an adaptation of the book by the same name, written by “Anonymous.” I have not read the book yet, so I cannot comment on how well the book translated into the screenplay. As it stands, the screenplay is well written except for a few details.
Two big details bugged me. The biggest was the 140-minute running time of the film. Director Mike Nichols should have edited some of the scenes. The other complaint, and this may seem weird, is that the film seems to end too abruptly.
However, as I drove away from the theatre, the ending seemed fitting and after a few minutes of thought, I saw how well this ending works. Most people, though, will probably think that the ending was a bit forced and abrupt.
Primary Colors is a good look into a campaign and the continuing dilemma: should the candidate give up virtue in order to win? This movie is not as harsh as Wag the Dog was, but it still attacks Clinton in a softer, more comical and satirical way. In the end though, you’ll walk out of the theatre wondering what you would be willing to give up in order to win a Presidential race
Edited by Cher Johnson.