On big screen, Woody Harrelson and Rob Reiner make “LBJ” larger than life
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The new film “LBJ” tells the story of President Lyndon B. Johnson told in a way you’ve never seen it before.
Just who exactly was LBJ? He was one of the eight vice presidents to ascend to office because of the president’s death. He was a senator of Texas before deciding to run for the presidency in 1960. After losing to John F. Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination, he was chosen to be the vice president. He served President Kennedy until the assassination, then took over for the remaining year.
As a politician, many people thought his methods were unconventional. He was rash and loud, he would often yell at his fellow congressmen and held official meetings from his bathroom. But as a president he did some great things, such as the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1968, which eliminated racial segregation.
Even with all the good he had done, he is not remembered as a good president. LBJ became the 37th president in November 1963, won his own election in 1964, and served until January 1969. He did not run for a second term because he knew he would lose.
The movie itself was accurate, as well as comical. The movie did a good job incorporating small clips from Nov. 22, 1963, and LBJ’s time as vice president, jumping between JFK’s fateful car ride and his presidency. The film focuses on the days surrounding the assassination.
Following a screening of “LBJ” on Oct. 18, 2017, at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, director Rob Reiner, star Woody Harrelson, and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talked about the film.
The discussion was very interesting as the audience got to hear about their experiences in acting, directing, and specifically, Goodwin’s experience writing about presidents and actually meeting them.
Goodwin, a biographer who worked with LBJ, said watching the film was like seeing the president come to life again on the screen.
Harrelson, who played a very convincing LBJ, said it was challenge for him to play someone who was a real person. He said it was very difficult to impersonate someone.
During the movie, one of the biggest threats to LBJ is JFK’s brother, Bobby Kennedy. They weren’t close to friendly, often undermining each other and just being all-around nasty to each other. During the Q&A with the audience, Harrelson said multiple times that it was the poisoned relationship between LBJ and Bobby Kennedy that was a big part of his downfall.
Goodwin was very insightful saying that the movie portrayed LBJ very accurately.
“You hear everything that he was, colorful, profane,” she said.
Reiner was very interesting. He was loud and gave long spiels about things he was passionate about. He liked to talk with his hands to express his ideas. His view of LBJ was basically him being a bull in a China shop.
Reiner said he believed that “without Vietnam, LBJ would have gone down as the greatest president in history.”
He referenced Goodwin’s book as being very insightful and helped with his work on the movie.
As a final closing statement, Reiner said that LBJ was hesitant to be president because he was afraid that the people would not love him and he did not know if he would succeed.
The movie was overall interesting. If someone has no idea who LBJ was, viewers will get an accurate and mildly funny movie.
–Nov. 2, 2017–
Imogen Stichbury is a member of the Raider Times staff.