Thursday, March 07, 2013

Primary Colors (1998)

Primary Colors
Directed by Mike Nichols
Starring: Adrian Lester, John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Maura Tierney, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton
Grade: B+

That this particular story holds up in 2013, and continues to be replicated in films such as “The Ides of March,” is more indicative of the unchanging shallow dynamics of American politics than it is of any cinematic habit. Armando Iannucci has clearly modelled his scripts on this sort of political satire, the coarse wit of “In the Loop” perhaps the closest rival to the silly campaign trail melodrama of “Primary Colors,” which features an assemblage of actors (from John Travolta to Maura Tierney) you feel have no right to be as compatible as they are together. The biggest success of the film is that it continues to ask questions of its characters when it could just resolve to become a lesson for Adrian Lester’s lead that idealism in politics is essentially foolish. Even when ‘Colors’ makes its rashest mistake in killing off one of its characters, the refreshingly honest reaction of Travolta’s Presidential candidate offers yet more shade to a script bursting with ideas about how or whether ethics belong in this arena, and comes to an acceptance of political coda without resorting to as surly or solemn a climax as ‘March’ does. The absence of any real villains or preoccupations with blame in “Primary Colors” is a shrewd move, its only critique being of an irreparably damaged system.

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