LBJ (2017) Review

Not much works for LBJ.

by Steve Pulaski

Every potentially interesting idea or theme Reiner and writer Joey Hartstone propose in the film is quickly abandoned following the scene's conclusion. There's a complexity of LBJ's character that, at times, suggests he is a man harboring racist convictions like much of southern America, especially in the company of Senator Russell, that gets abandoned from focus rather quickly. Hartstone's treatment of LBJ resorts to lame shock value, such as the former president's fondness for defecating with the door open in the presence of lawmakers or lobbyists he wasn't fond of as well as throwing around the notion that "when you think life has given you lemons, they're actually big titties." In Trump's America, and even a year after the 2016 election, these comments should hardly make anyone bat an eye, as unfortunate of a statement as that may be.

It's strange for a film about this high-profile of a person not to have any meaningful opinion on him, but LBJ almost actively refuses to make any statement regarding the former president. LBJ is probably behind Franklin D. Roosevelt in the rankings of a president who created the most effective social programs, establishing Medicare and Medicaid, and, as stated, struck a chord of honesty that resonated with working and upper class Americans. Having said that, LBJ has also been criticized for not aiding black families with any kind of long-term sustainability on top of thrusting America into the Vietnam War in a very hard-headed manner that almost forced him to decline running for reelection (something the film notes on top of four or five other things in a four-title-cards worth of exposition before the closing credits).

There's not much to LBJ that would work to excite a history-buff nor is there enough to warrant much else besides a curiosity viewing in terms of seeing how competent Harrelson is as Johnson. Any deep-seeded mediocrity the film harbors is slightly offset by that coupled with the fact that it's often difficult to blast something that's average for just being average; portraying events or characters as inconsequential is more offensive and at least Reiner and Hartstone stop themselves before they go that far.

Steve's Grade: C-


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