Primary Colors (1998) starring John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Adrian Lester, Maura Tierney, Larry Hagman directed by Mike Nichols Movie Review

Primary Colors (1998)   3/53/53/53/53/5

John Travolta as Governor Jack Stanton in Primary Colors (1998)

Election Night Fever

It would be wrong to review "Primary Colors" and not to mention the similarities between this fictional story of a presidential candidate on the campaign trail and that of one time President Bill Clinton. But do you know what I am not qualified enough to tell you how close to the mark this fictional story is and I'm sure that if you want a review which examines the relationship between fact and fiction you can find it elsewhere. So basically this review is of "Primary Colors" as a movie and whether it worked in being entertaining which to be frank it is, by no means perfect but snappy and amusing that it keeps you interested.

Henry Burton (Adrian Lester - Scenes of a Sexual Nature) is the son of a famous a black civil rights leader and Southern Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta - Face/Off) wants him as part of his campaign management team. Despite reservations especially when he witnesses Jack leaving a bedroom with a woman who's not his wife Henry finds him self swept up by the charismatic force which is Jack Stanton and before he knows it is a crucial member of a team. That team also consists of Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) a strategy expert and Daisy Green (Maura Tierney) a public relations expert who find themselves with their hands full thanks to Jack's various skeleton's in closets having done drugs, been arrested but more significantly had an affair with his wife's hairdresser.

Adrian Lester and Maura Tierney in Primary Colors (1998)

So ignoring all the elements of fact and fiction what we have in "Primary Colors" is a snappy and often amusing behind the scenes of a presidential election campaign from the viewpoint of Henry Burton. We watch how he gets swept up by the charismatic Jack and despite knowing that he is a smooth talker and a master manipulator of people believes that maybe beneath all the sales talk could be the one, doing what it takes to be in a position to then try and do what is best. And then we watch as Burton and those behind the scenes including Jack's wife have to fire fight as the dirt is dug up on him especially his various sexual antics.

It is thoroughly entertaining because on one hand it is amusing especially when one minute you have Jack smooth talking the voters and then the next walking out of the bedroom with someone he shouldn't. And watching how the campaign team deal with all these revelations is just as entertaining from how they approach the subject of his affairs with Jack's wife through to the way they actually run the campaign office especially when the volunteers have no idea what they are doing. That probably makes it sound more staged comedy than it really is because it has a far more snappy style than just throwing set piece gags at the viewer. Although you have to say that certain scenes such as one where Jack does battle with an opponent on a radio phone in does end up feeling too much like a set piece, although not knowing political history that event may have happened.

Now whilst "Primary Colors" is entertaining with its snappy style and humorous moments it doesn't mean it is shallow, in fact there is some real depth to this story. Scenes revolving around what is morally right when trying to beat opponents is eye opening as is the way it establishes that sometimes you need to do what is necessary to be in the place to do what is right. I'm sure there is more depth for those who enjoy over analyzing movies but as I'm not one of them the messages still come across with out going over your head.

Now "Primary Colors" has a good cast and Adrian Lester, Maura Tierney, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates all deliver entertaining performances as does Larry Hagman as rival Gov. Fred Picker. But in truth "Primary Colors" ends up all about John Travolta and the charisma he gets across as Jack Stanton. And it is a very good performance from being a smooth talking salesman to almost seeming shallow away from voters it is shall we say believable and memorable.

What this all boils down to is that purely from an entertainment point of view "Primary Colors" works. It is a snappy and amusing behind the scenes look at a fictional presidential campaign. But I am sure for those who know their political history it ends up even more entertaining as the fact and fiction on show becomes more interesting.