Volume 91, Issue 93

Wednesday, March 25, 1998



Fever hits the White House

©Francois Duhamel
FOR THE LAST TIME, I DID NOT HAVE SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH MY INTERN. John Travolta does his best Bill Clinton impersonation in Primary Colors.

By Dan Yurman
Gazette Staff

One of Hollywood's all-time favourite good guy characters is the president of the United States and over the past few years, the nation's leader has been portrayed as an attractive widow (The American President), a world hero (ID4), an African American (Deep Impact) and the innocent victim of a hijacking (Air Force One).

Primary Colors, the new film from Mike Nichols, director of The Birdcage, shows the audience the not-so-black-and-white side of the president rarely seen in motion pictures – the truth.

The film stars John Travolta as Jack Stanton. He is the relatively unknown middle-aged, soft-spoken, womanizing, inspirational governor of a southern state who has decided he wants to change the world, make a difference and run for president. Does any of this sound familiar?

It should. Based on a book of the same name, penned by "Anonymous," Primary Colors is meant to be a loose portrayal of current President Bill Clinton's first steps towards the oval office in 1992.

The film is a great achievement. It is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when a terrific filmmaking team is mixed with a best-selling novel. In the past, screen adaptations of novels have fallen flat, but Primary Colors perseveres, proving to be the silver lining. This occurs for two main reasons: The script and the acting.

Writer Elaine May, who scripted The Birdcage and the Oscar-nominated Tootsie, does a fantastic job of getting inside the minds and hearts of the major political actors. She gives each line a perfect mixture of honesty and satire, the same mixture found in the world of real politics. This not only makes the film realistic, but hysterical as well.

The cast is also superb. Travolta does a wonderful Clinton impression. He perfectly nails the Clinton-esque accent and mannerisms to which we have become accustomed. Emma Thompson is at her best as Mrs. Stanton who stands by her husband no matter what kind of mess he finds himself in.

Newcomer Adrian Lester plays Henry, the new recruit to the Stanton team who, like the audience and the United States circa 1992, sees the governor as the man who really can change the world.

The real acting achievement in this film, however, belongs to Billy Bob Thorton and Kathy Bates, who both play political strategists. Thorton's portrayal of the wacky, eccentric but brilliant Richard, (meant to be a spin on real-life Clinton advisor James Carville) is dead on. His dialogue delivery is great and his screen presence is virtually unmatched in the film.

Kathy Bates, playing Libby, another advisor, is worthy of an Oscar. The emotion, wit and charm she brings to the difficult role of a recovering mental patient is wonderful.

The true star of the film, though, is its message. The business of politics is a dirty one. It can make an angel out of the devil and turn the lives of the innocent upside down. Primary Colors pulls no punches in showing this side of the political game. Its producers have created a masterpiece that will go down in history as one of the best films dealing with the subject. A year from now, expect Primary Colors to bring home the gold; Oscar gold.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998