Rob Reiner directs Woody Harrelson in the title role as legendary and controversial Texas politician Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded the assassinated John F. Kennedy as President of the United States and unexpectedly helped usher in a new era of civil rights — while plunging the country into the inferno of Vietnam.
The US presidency is one of the most dramatic roles one could ever take on. That's not new. This enthralling biopic from director Rob Reiner chronicles the life and times of a man who would inherit the position at one of the most fraught moments in American history. Featuring standout performances from Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, LBJ is a gripping epic that charts the choices made by an often-maligned politician at a critical turning point.
After John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, it fell immediately to Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Harrelson, also appearing in Gala Presentation The Edge of Seventeen) to take up the mantle of Commander in Chief. No other president of the last century began his time in office under such sombre circumstances, and few have begun their terms attempting to navigate such national turmoil. This was the era of the Civil Rights Movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
LBJ shows Johnson confronting the challenge of leading a nation still grieving its beloved Jack Kennedy, even as he grapples with urgent calls for social justice led by Martin Luther King Jr. At the same time, the late president's brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, pushes Johnson to prove he's worthy of his new role. Lacking President Kennedy's charm and his elected mandate, Johnson must prove himself through sheer force of will.
Reiner and scenarist Joey Hartstone contrast this White House power struggle with a character portrait that shows Johnson, the son of a Texas farmer and politician, as a rough-hewn outsider elevated in part through his marriage to Lady Bird (Leigh). Shrewd by nature even when he was appallingly coarse, Johnson emerges in Harrelson's full-blooded characterization as a man willing to drive through landmark legislation partly on principle and largely on guts. This film shows the leader behind the Great Society and the War on Poverty as nettlesome, flawed, and fascinating.
Roy Thomson Hall
Visa Screening Room (Elgin)