Based on the novel by Anonymous (a.k.a. political reporter Joe Klein) and released when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in full swing, Primary Colors may have been a case of too much, too soon for many moviegoers, who pref... more »erred the real-life Clinton crisis over the movie's thinly disguised "Clintonesque" comedy. The general public felt that the film was exploiting the president's indiscretions, and as a result one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1998 was a box-office disappointment. But when considered apart from the Clinton scandals and judged on its own considerable merits, this superb comedy-drama provides an illuminating, insightful, and frequently hilarious look at the harsh realities of presidential politics. John Travolta stars as Jack Stanton, a presidential hopeful whose campaign is challenged by dual dilemmas: how to squelch a scandal involving the candidate's alleged sex with an underage girl, and how to handle information that could potentially ruin Stanton's opponent (superbly played by Larry Hagman). Stanton's wife (Emma Thompson) stands by her man despite awareness of his infidelities, but his loyal campaign planners (played by Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney, and promising newcomer Adrian Lester) experience a crisis of conscience. So does one of the Stantons' oldest friends (Kathy Bates, in an Oscar-nominated role), whose sense of betrayal and lost idealism proves too much to bear. Masterfully adapted by director Mike Nichols and his former-comedy-partner-turned-screenwriter, Elaine May, Primary Colors plays like a sophisticated comedy with loads of memorable scenes and dialogue, but it sneaks up on you with devastating dramatic impact. Anchored by Travolta's superb performance (which is reminiscent of Clinton without being a cheap impersonation), the movie presents a story of great moral complexity and leaves viewers to contemplate their own reactions to the volatile and ethically complicated game of modern politics. --Jeff Shannon« less
John Travolta played his part well in this and it was pretty entertaining to watch!
Political Idealism Shattered.
Michael J. Berquist | 02/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I throughly enjoyed the novel by "Anonymous" when it came out in (I think) 1995. When the film premiered I braced myself for the worst. The film is never as good as the book, as anyone will tell you. But I was wrong. If anything, "Primary Colors" was *better* than the book, a thinly-veiled take-off on Bill Clinton's turbulent campaign for the Presidency in 1992.Why is this such a fine movie? Two words- John Travolta. As Jack Stanton he captures the role perfectly- Clinton's demeanor, his passion for people, his weaknesses. I scoffed at hearing that Travolta was to play the part, and am I ever glad I was wrong. Travolta is terrific. Whoever won the Oscar for Best Actor that year must have done a great job to out-shine Travolta.The rest of the cast is dead-on in their roles- Emma Thompson as Stanton's Hillary-esque wife, Adrian Lester as the Stephanapoulos-esque moral center to the film, Kathy Bates as Stanton's idealistic alter ego, and Larry Hagman as Stanton's opponant, Governor Freddy Picker. I particularly liked Billy Bob Thornton as Richard Jemmons, a stand-in for Clinton's advisor James Carville. A lesser actor would have aped Carville's Cajin accent and played the part as a parody. Thornton though is smart enough to play Jemmons as a smart, cocky but utterly loyal subbordinate whose good 'ol boy demeanor masks a cunning political mind. Director Mike Nichols has produced some wonderful performances from a really wonderful cast. The film's exploration of political idealism and how quickly it is shattered is well-done and quite timely now given the current Presidential election.Outstanding film for political junkies and people who enjoy good drama."
sweetmolly | RICHMOND, VA USA | 05/02/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Primary Colors" is a genuinely hard-luck movie. Distributed when the real-life giant scandals of the Clinton presidency were at their height, customers were not in a mood for a cutting edge comedy on quasi-fictional smaller scandals concerning the same players. It's a shame! The movie has a superb cast, deft timing, packs a wallop, and teases the audience into some thoughtful moments.John Travolta shines as the exuberant, larger-than-life, shrewd and sentimental presidential candidate, Jack Stanton. He is a man with over-sized appetites whether it is chitlins or chicks, and rallies or righteousness. Emma Thompson is properly steely in her resolve, but shows her aching vulnerability to Jack's massive infidelity. Billy Bob Thornton was made for the role a down-home vulgar cracker sidekick. He can cry over his mama one minute and be ruthlessly savage the next. Then there is Kathy Bates. I think it is an axiom of show biz to never co-star with a kid or a dog because they will upstage you every time. To kids and dogs, add Kathy Bates. When she blows into the movie as a wisecracking, politically savvy and highly neurotic idealist; everything else fades into the background.This is one of the great movies of the decade. Everything about it is first class from the brilliant direction of Mike Nichols ably assisted by his old sidekick Elaine Mayes to the carefully placed cameo roles of Larry Hagman and Rob Reiner. Add this one to your DVD library.
"Wow" is the only phrase that comes to mind
Cappy | 07/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I first stumbled across a very very late night airing of Primary Colors on television, I was hesitant to sit back and enjoy the show. Political films just don't float my boat, since I find the actual politics somewhat uninteresting. However, within about forty-five seconds, I was hooked on this compelling comedy-drama. The story is superb, even though it isn't anything we haven't heard or joked about before. The acting is beyond superb, with every character given a voice and a story, so that you feel that nothing that is said or done is out of place. Although the comedic moments are great, what is really surprising is how, by the end of the film, you are deeply affected by the outcome of each character's story. And although the film is about politics, it is completely non-partisan and leaves the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. I feel that I cannot say enough good about Primary Colors. It is a surprisingly wonderful film that I would recommend to everyone."
Savage satire is one of my favorites of 1998
Matthew Horner | USA | 03/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Somebody's not telling the truth about this movie. The studio emphasized that "Primary Colors" was not intentionally based on Bill and Hillary Clinton. The writer of the book it's based on was written by "Anonymous". The real author turned out to be Joe Klien, who works for The New Yorker Magazine. He says the book was, in fact, based on Clinton's first Presidential campaign.John Travolta and Emma Thompson play Jack and Susan Stanton. Jack is Governor of an unnamed Southern State. The couple looks a whole like Bill and Hillary, both in body language and in appearance. When the film came out last Spring, it did fairly good business. It was viewed as a political satire, which it is. In fact, it's one of the best films of its kind in a long time. Some would mention "Wag the Dog" in the same breath as "Primary Colors". The former was certainly a fine movie, but "Colors" is witty, rambunctious, smart and, well, a whole lot like the Clintons!I suppose it has a slightly darker feel to it now, with all the bad press and publicity Mr. Clinton has lately gotten. Before all the disclosures about Clinton's private life, the movie seemed almost innocent. Now it seems prophetic. It's as though "Primary Colors" mutated into a different form. Or could it be that, after the revelations were made about The President, the nation suffered from a case of Mass Denial?The irony is that the character of Jack Stanton is seen as an intelligent, well intentioned man, who has a bit of a problem with his fly. Whatever its parallels with real life, it stands on its own as a good picture. The focus is on John Travolta's character, but Thompson's Susan doesn't get off lightly either. That is because, no matter how much Stanton fools around, the couple is always united in its pursuit of power. This is made clearly evident in two scenes. In the first one, Susan is sobbing and being held by Henry [Adrian Lester], a young and affable political aide. Susan has just found out about another one of Jack's affairs, and she is furious at him and at all who kept it secret from her. The film cuts straight to the second scene, where Susan is shown as all business again, throwing herself into the campaign. This sudden shift in her moods is done on purpose to underline how nothing in this world will alter her mission.Mike Nichols is in top directing form. He really hasn't done as many movies as people might think. He's just done some of the most famous, such as "The Birdcage", "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Graduate".Travolta and Thompson are so good that they are almost spooky. Emma Thompson is one of the great actresses of our times. While nobody paid much attention to him for many years, I think many are coming to realize that Travolta is one of our great actors. As Richard, a brilliant but insane political ally, Billy Bob Thornton shines again. It never ceases to amaze me how much Thornton's physical appearance can change from role to role. For the record, he was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Kathy Bates threatens to steal the show at times in her dynamic turn as a political aide Stanton hires. She been in an asylum for the last fifteen years!The script by Elaine May has some of the best dialog of any film released in this decade.
For example, Stanton checks into his motel at some campaign stop. He looks around and say, "What? No cable TV? What the [blank] were you thinking. of? You can't run for President of the Untied States without [blank] CNN!".Mike Nichols and Elaine May were, many years ago, the top standup comedy team of their time. It's wonderful to see them reunited in this way - he directing, she writing. Still a team!"