Generally favorable reviews - based on 30 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 30
  2. Negative: 2 out of 30
  1. 50
    It never really rollicks like a good political satire.
  2. Whatever else it may or may not be, Primary Colors is first and last a mainstream Hollywood entertainment. And that means that viewers looking for engagement with political issues are bound to be disappointed.
  3. 100
    It's a superb film -- funny, insightful and very wise about the realities of political life.
  4. Striking an excellent balance between wry cultural critique and crisp entertainment value, the picture is as smart and funny as any comedy-drama in recent memory.
  5. One of those thrilling confluences in pop culture that rewards audiences for thinking the worst about politicians and the best about movie stars.
  6. Reviewed by: Chris Gore
    At once entertaining and depressing -- it exposes politics raw.
  7. Reviewed by: John Hartl
    It's as wise and funny and revealing as anything ever created by Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
  8. Reviewed by: Sean Means
    A hilariously entertaining movie.
  9. Reviewed by: Robert Horton
    Primary Colors is by turns hugely entertaining and resoundingly square, beginning as a raucous black comedy about political mechanics and ending as a sober-sided morality tale.
  10. Reviewed by: Tom Keogh
    As with Bill Clinton himself, Primary Colors forces one to take the disappointing with the good, the letdown with the promise, the compromises with the hope.
  11. Such a smart and savvy piece of work it encourages us to feel we're eavesdropping on history.
  12. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Primary Colors lacks the buzz and crackle of observed experience; you never feel like you've been plunged into the workings of a real campaign. It's a sham movie about a sham world.
  13. Reviewed by: David Denby
    This entertaining but rather peculiar movie asks extraordinary questions, and I wish it were better equipped to give the answers.
  14. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    I expected to laugh; I didn't expect to be moved.
  15. 63
    Joe Klein's novel -- is a cynical satire of life on the campaign trail. It's harsh, blistering, and possesses an edge that the film, a warmhearted comedy/drama, lacks.
  16. 60
    A slack, tepid picture stuck in a no man's land between satire and drama.
  17. An intelligent movie that portrays the mighty without reverence.
  18. Reviewed by: Barbara Shulgasser
    Underscores everything that was utterly wrong-headed about the original material.
  19. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    I found it so oppressively smug that I had to get up and pace the aisles three or four times, and I'd have bolted if I hadn't been duty bound to stick it out.
  20. 80
    One the truest-feeling political portraits in years, as well as a fine piece of drama.
  21. Sophisticated and unsentimental political film.
  22. The result is glib, often funny, sometimes bumpy, and ultimately depressing.
  23. It's a movie struggling with its own identity crisis, and with the obvious constraints created by its subject matter.
  24. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Nichols and his once and current partner, screenwriter Elaine May, can make a funny, knowing, ultimately judicious film from the deliciously satyric satire.
  25. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    An intelligent and very funny satire about the bloody game of American politics.
  26. Reviewed by: Jack Garner
    Perhaps Nichols and May's greatest accomplishment is capturing perfectly on film the mysterious, complex, compromised relationship the public has with today's political leaders.
  27. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    A modern immorality tale with a keen, observant edge.
  28. Guilty, deftly orchestrated fun.
  29. Its palette isn't primary at all: It's full of secondary shadings.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 12 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 4
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 4
  3. Negative: 0 out of 4
  1. Jan 3, 2014
    Mike Nichols presents a political satire PRIMARY COLORS, which came timely during Bill Clinton’s infamous Lewinsky scandal and impeachment inMike 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, 8/10), 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.
    Full Review »
  2. TonyB.
    Jan 20, 2006
    This was one of 1998's best films, a sharp political satire that is both very nasty and very funny. Elaine May has written quite a This was one of 1998's best films, a sharp political satire that is both very nasty and very funny. Elaine May has written quite a script, and Mike Nichols has directed an excellent cast, all of whom deliver great portrayals. Special honors go to John Travolta, giving one of his best performances, Emma Thompson and Kathy Bates. Many Clinton haters wanted it to go further than it does, and many Clinton devotees felt it went to far. For me, it was just right. Full Review »