Primary Colors chronicles the story of a fictitious presidential candidate Jack Stanton and his bid to become the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States. The story is based on the book of the same name, written by "Anonymous", and it was published shortly after President Bill Clinton was elected. It has generally been assumed that the book was a somewhat accurate account of Clinton's efforts to become the presidential nominee in 1992. The story itself is told from the perspective of the candidate's campaign manager, casually played by someone I've never seen before, and isn't mentioned in any of the ads that I've seen.
John Travolta portrays a character that is too similar to Clinton so as not to be ignored. Emma Thompson plays a Hillary clone, and there's almost no trace of her original English Accent. Kathy Bates reproduces the character she played in the made-for-tv movie "The Late Shift", a no-bullshirt political spin doctor. Is she becoming Typecast?
While the story tends to drag in points, especially
during the last half an hour, it's engaging in a way that can
only be described as morbid curiosity. I found myself trying
to draw parallels to the real life people that are supposedly
portrayed. Travolta's Stanton is always eating,
always emits the concerned candidate attitude, and I don't really
recall him ever frowning during the entire film, even when he
has admitted marital infidelity.
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There was obviously too much material in the book to put into one film. I felt that some judicious and/or brutal editing could have been done to keep the movie from dragging as it did in the final half hour. The primaries of only a handful of states were mentioned, and we all know how much media coverage each set of states receives. The final jump from the recovery of the major scandal near the end to the Presidential Inaugural Ball was too abrupt, which only proved that someone actually edited something out of the movie. Since I have not read Primary Colors, it is my opinion that the director (Mike Nichols) had wanted to add more from the book, but realized that he already had 2 1/2 hours of movie, so he simply decided to end the movie without putting too much into truly ending the story. It was cheap, and lessened the overall effect of the film, but not enough to dissuade me from recommending it.
The movie was told from the point of view of Stanton's campaign manager, and we never really get a sense of who he is, except that he was a hapless soul, drawn in by the magnetism of the candidate himself. His girlfriend becomes an ex girlfriend early in the film because of his dedication to a supposed liar, and I never believed that he was truly swayed by the candidates words, when the candidate's actions were so typically slimy in that special way that only politicians can pull off.
As for other characters, I totally believed Billy Bob Thorton as a James Carville-esque strategist. I also was pleased by Larry Hagman's appearance as Florida Gov. Picker, who gets himself involved in a land deal/scandal known as "ClearWater" Laying it on a bit thick, but he plays the part well.
I do recommend that you see Primary Colors, but only because it stands on its own as a movie. If this were a film thinly veiled as a political expose', I'd wonder why Clinton was still in office.