Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Primary Colors (1998)

It's very hard to watch Primary Colors and not associate the action on screen with that of the Clintons, but to say that the film is a thinly disguised satire of that power couple would do it a tremendous disservice. Primary Colors, now sixteen years old, remains an insightful, wise and at times very funny account of both the campaign trail and the  nature of the political animal in general.

What I love about this movie is the script from Elaine May has a distinctive beginning, middle and end and that her long time collaborator Mike Nichols - in the director and producer chair - steadily takes the audience on the journey that such a treatment deserves. At almost 2 hours and 20 minutes it could be argued that the film borders on outstaying its welcome, but its worth considering that the story told is so informative and detailed it's an impressive feat that it doesn't go on for longer, and that our attention is held both coherently and satisfyingly throughout without the film ever talking down to you.

I admire the performances of all involved. Whilst John Travolta and Emma Thompson are our stars, creating three dimensional characters who can be both engaging and frustrating and embellishing their roles with all that we think we know about you know's worth remembering that the film neatly avoids ever really getting under the skin of either protagonist.  In keeping them at arm's length, the film holds a mirror up to our own relationship with politicians and figures in the public eye, acknowledging the charisma and complexity of such characters and how they essentially mean different things to different people. There are no answers in Primary Colors - and it seems some actually and, in my view, unfairly hold that as a negative to the film - the joy is the behind the scenes speculation and gossip provided by the campaign's staffers played brilliantly by Adrian Lester (why the phone never rang for him in Hollywood again, I do not know) Billy Bob Thornton and, in a truly powerhouse supporting role, Kathy Bates. There's also a great cameo from JR himself, Larry Hagman.

An accomplished feature, Primary Colors remains one of the best political movies in American cinema.

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