Universal Pictures | Release Date: March 20, 1998
8.5
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Universal acclaim based on 25 Ratings
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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 script, and Mike Nichols has directed an excellent cast, all of whom deliver great portrayals. Special 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. Collapse
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7
lasttimeisawJan 3, 2014
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 filmMike 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.
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7
SpangleMar 4, 2017
Compared to the other politically-based comedy drama of 1998, Bulworth, Primary Colors is not quite as good. While its first hour and fourty-five minutes hums by, nimbly treading the line between fact and fiction with a comedic and satiricalCompared to the other politically-based comedy drama of 1998, Bulworth, Primary Colors is not quite as good. While its first hour and fourty-five minutes hums by, nimbly treading the line between fact and fiction with a comedic and satirical kick, its final fourty minutes are far too somber and tonally off from the rest of the film. A unique take on the lying and manipulation politicians embark on with Democratic presidential candidate Jack Stanton (John Travolta) leading the charge as a Bill Clinton type man. Alongside him is his wife Susan (Emma Thompson) who must endure scandal after scandal that proves the levels to which Jack has cheated on her and betrayed her trust. Yet, she sticks behind me. Why? Because through all the lies and dishonesty, Jack Stanton is a man who can change America. She knows it and so does his wide-eyed campaign chairman Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), who is the audience surrogate to this world of dirty politics, plotting, and spinning. Funny, smart, and honest, Primary Colors may be bit too dark at the end to really pull it off, but the film mostly works.

In the beginning two-thirds of the film, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May write a ripping yarn about a presidential candidate that may be a scumbag womanizer who impregnates underage girls, but he cares. To be President, one does not necessarily need to be a great man and Bill Clinton, er, Jack Stanton is a perfect representation of that fact. This does not preclude his wife Susan from taking it to heart, as is gracefully portrayed by Emma Thompson who shows the grace and harm the sexual freedom of Stanton's nature has on her. But, it also does not preclude him from becoming President as Henry Burton soon learns. Hired to be his campaign manager, Burton left another man's campaign to work for Stanton because of one thing: belief. His past employer talked a good game and knew how to convince people, but he was not going to fight for anybody. He was just a politician. Stanton is different, however. He is a worse man than the other guy, but he cares about these people. To the people who worked in manufacturing, he honestly told them he would not get their jobs back, but would work to find something new. He fights for adult literacy and education programs as a result, doing the ground work in that area. He has a conversation without cameras around with a man who has worked since the age of 14 and cannot afford good health care in a Krispy Kreme at 4am. He greets people in the pouring rain on polling day. He talks to the elderly about issues that mean the world to them. Now, he may not always tell the truth to these people. For example, he lies about his own uncle's literacy level. But, he does mean well. He lies to get them on his team, not to mislead them. The things he says and the things that touch his heart are not fake, they are things he truly wishes to change and he wants to fight for the common American. Contrary to many other politicians, he is not all bark with no bite. He barks just as loudly, but his bite is just as ferocious.

This authenticity is mirrored in his early approach to negative campaigning. He wants it to be about the issues and not just because of his skeletons. He believes the American people deserve to hear about the issues and he plans on doing just that. By the time he uncovers the dirt about Governor Fred Picker (Larry Hagman) though, he knows he must play dirty to save the party. While he fails the test of Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), who hoped he would stick to his guns and not play dirty, he knows it is a necessary evil. If he wants these people to get help as he sees necessary, the Democrats must win. If he does not hit Picker with these revelations, the Republicans will and the Democrats will lose the election. For the good of the party, he must make Picker drop out. This is tragic obviously and clearly shakes both him and Henry, but politics demand getting dirty to promote your ideals. It is why negative campaigning is often necessary. Candidates must give people a reason not to vote for the other person, not to promote themselves as clean. This mud slinging comes from the need of politicians to ensure their agenda and policies are promoted. If the other guy wins, things will not go to plan. In portraying this moral dilemma, Nichols' film really soars. Balancing the charisma of Travolta in the lead role, his scandals, and the absurd things that occur for the first two-thirds of the film, Primary Colors really strikes a chord. It is incredibly real and never stops being so, but it is also impeccably funny. It shows how absurd it can all be, while finding comedy in smart places and never stretching the jokes to cover up true social critique. At the end of the day, it paints Stanton as a bad man with a good heart. Susan and Henry stay with him because of this. Through all the bad press and lies, he wants to make a difference and is naive and idealistic about America.
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