[Last Film I Saw] Primary Colors (1998)

Primary Colors poster

Title: Primary Colors
Year: 1998
Country: USA, France, UK, Germany, Japan
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers:
Elaine May
Joe Klein
Music: Ry Cooder
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Cast:
John Travolta
Adrian Lester
Emma Thompson
Kathy Bates
Billy Bob Thornton
Maura Tierney
Diane Ladd
Paul Guilfoyle
Tommy Hollis
Larry Hagman
Robert Klein
Allison Janney
Caroline Aaron
Ben Jones
Rob Reiner
Tony Shalhoub
John Vargas
Robert Cicchini
Rebecca Walker
Stacy Edwards
Larry King
Geraldo Rivera
Rating: 7.0/10

Primary Colors 1998

Mike Nichols presents a political satire PRIMARY COLORS, which came timely during Bill Clinton’s infamous Lewinsky scandal and impeachment in 1998. So it might boost the publicity then, but 15 years later, when our memories fade, the film actually has weathered pretty good, narrating from a Black young novice Henry (Lester)’s eyes, who assists Governor Jack Stanton (Travolta)’s presidential campaign for the democrats, initially Henry thinks Jack is different from other politicians because he viscerally cares about adult literacy and dyslexia, but when he gets closer to him, the stain of Jack’s personal life is far more reprehensible and the conniving political game is far too scurvy for an idealist like him.

With a light touch, the film sets its campaign process in a vibrant tempo, benignly portrays Jack as a zestful candidate who canvasses and panders to his voters with great facility (through the different connotations from his body gestures and a memorable slapstick cameo from Allison Janney) in spite of the relatively youthful and uninitiated team. Then when Jack’s wife Susan (Thompson) comes into the scene, the placid surface cannot dissemble the cracks beneath as soon as we detect Jack’s philandering nature. A sex scandal is well-expected, which invites the troubleshooter Libby (an open lesbian and a close friend of Jack and Susan since college), plays by a fiery Kathy Bates, a devil-may-care warrior can track down any sources and break them, Bates is well-deserved for this hard-earned Oscar nominated performance, her wrangle with Jack and Susan about the integrity she cannot forsake is purely magnificent.

Emma Thompson is perpetually excellent, especially under Nichol’s guidance, a perfect wife behind a successful man mode is such a cinch for her and she nails it with much more nuances to accentuate her vulnerability and snobbishness. As for Travolta, it has hitherto been his last decent offer (if one can count out his droll transvestite transformation in HAIRSPRAY 2007), underneath his cordial impression, his true color does not betray easily even in the hardest times, maybe that’s why makes him a successful politician. And Adrian Lester is the audience’s proxy, a wide-eyed enthusiast undergoes the tidal wave throughout, and an adamant observer which cogently influences his sea change in altitude through the screen to the viewers, bookends with the ending’s artificial vagueness which also corresponds with the beginning, the same handshakes, different undertones.

Forget about its reality allusions if you can, PRIMARY COLORS qualifies itself as a better-than-expected dissection of what politicians are made of, we are all characters with flaws, sometimes moralities and political expertise should be discriminated in order to see through the murky smoke screen and select the credentialed ones instead of stalking horses. As for most of us, the most substantial message is that there is no win-win situation or whatsoever in the political composition.

Oscar 1998 - Primary Colors

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