"That's how history is made - by the first-timers."
Okay, I'll admit it.
I'm having a hard time starting this review here. I don't know anything about politics. I suspect Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is supposed to be Bill Clinton, but I can't be sure because I don't know anything about the book either. I don't read the paper, and sadly I could care less about presidential campaigns. I have no basis on which to base my comments. So this review is from an ignorant student, and perhaps many politically-savvy adults out there will get more and/or get something different out of the movie.
Moving on. . .
"Primary Colors" tells an effective, moving story of the Stanton campaign trail. We get a sort of behind-the-scenes glimpse at the engineering of the President of the United States, what's behind the image, the platform, the mudslinging. I don't know how accurate this portrayal of the political world is, but it had me captivated. It made me realize that politicians, no matter how grimy and sleazy they may be sometimes, are human too. What this movie says about campaigning and politicans - it's worth a look no matter what party you support or how you look at the political world. It even works for people like me, who don't know bleep about politics. Its basic philosophy is that you might lose the small battles, but you must win the big war. The process of getting elected might be brutal, and there might be some moments where you begin to ask: "Is what I'm doing really worth it?", but what's important is that the right person (I suppose in this case Gov. Stanton) must be elected. You must maintain your ideals. And when at the end we see Jack and Susan waltzing around gloriously at the presidential inauguration - goddamnit, my faith in politics was revived! (::play grandeur music here::) I felt like I was looking at Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt. That was a great feeling.
The performances were wonderful. I had a bit of a hard time swallowing John Travolta's performance - I was constantly comparing him to Bill Clinton, his hair dye looked just a bit fake, and sometimes he just gives me flashbacks of his evil character in "Face/Off." But that's doesn't take anything away from his acting job, does it? Ditto with Emma Thompson's American accent - it wasn't perfect, but in effect it proved that she was trying very hard. The virtual no-name (whose name I do not remember) who plays Henry Burton, Kathy Bates (Libby) and a number of outstanding supporting players carry the movie with elegance.
The movie starts out lighthearted and comical, but midway it takes a bitter turn into the powerful and the dramatic. We realize that the movie is serious about telling its story, and that politics is no joking matter. Idealism and reality clash and the result is one that all of us are all too familiar with. As with all movies, this one has flaws - sometimes, I feel like strangling Stanton; sometimes, I'm uncomfortable with the prospect that Stanton just might be another fake. But we have to take the story as it is - and believe. As the Stanton clan face their trials, tribulations, and moral choices, we understand that it's a struggle all of us have to face in our lifetimes, one time or another, politics or not. But in the end, it only matters what we have achieved, not what we've lost. The Stantons stayed there till the end - and this movie makes for an inspiring evening.
Rating: B (First viewing, 3/21/98)