Urban Cinefile
"It's a fantastic thrill to win the Camera d'Or, a big surprise. It's a wonderful treat and so is the money."  -Shirley Barrett, on her Love Serenade win at Cannes
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday, October 23, 2017 

Search SEARCH FOR A VIDEO_FILE
Our Review Policy OUR REVIEW POLICY
Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE

Help/Contact

PRIMARY COLORS

SYNOPSIS:
Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is an idealistic young black man, the grandson of a Civil Rights leader, who is looking for something or someone to believe in. He joins the Presidential campaign of Jack Stanton (John Travolta), the progressive governor of a small southern state where Henry's ancestors were slaves, and meets his new political family: Richard (Billy Bob Thornton) the brilliant, improbable political strategist who proudly describes himself as a "Redneck," Libby (Kathy Bates) the fanatically loyal, overtly gay, campaign trouble shooter who occasionally carries a gun, Daisy (Maura Tierney) the campaign media advisor, young and smart and looking for love. Jack and Susan Stanton (Emma Thompson) are impossible to resist, burning with the ambition to be a part of history. During the long, roller coaster campaign riddled with sexual scandal (two of them with the presidential candidate), Henry becomes progressively more involved with his new world, alternating between love and disillusion and discovering that both are a part of growing up American.

"Primary Colours satisfies the cynic as deeply it satisfies the pragmatist and the idealist; the story of an American Presidential campaign is the story of an American nightmare within the American dream. (But before we get carried away with any smug American-bashing, we should remember the universality of human weakness – especially in the political arena.) The film’s origin, the famous book by Anonymous, since revealed as Joe Klein, has in its power to suggest that this is how the Clinton campaign was REALLY like. This is either a dangerous lie and a total character assassination of both Bill and Hilary Clinton (among others), or it is partially true and a partial character assassination; on the other hand, can cinematic sexual scandals further damage Clinton at this point in time? The most important aspect of Primary Colours is really nothing to do with Clinton; does it work as a film, does it work as insightful and entertaining? Yes. Yes. And yes again to Elaine May’s fabulous script, with crackling dialogue, gripping structure, complex characters plus a satisfying emotional wallop. Nichols and May always were a great team, and here they deliver a film with political and social implications but they do not lose sight of the main game. (They do lose sight of the clock a bit, though, and let it run on about 20 minutes more than we need.) The casting is terrific, and I have to admit that I was wrong about Emma Thompson; before seeing the film, I felt she was miscast. But she convinced me by nailing her character completely; matter of fact, I liked hers more than I liked Travolta’s performance. I also enjoyed Australian actress, Gia Carides’ cameo as the hairdresser claiming to have slept with the candidate, and the larger supporting role by Larry Hagman, against type, as the ageing Senator with some skeletons in the closet. Billy Bob Thornton and the brilliant Kathy Bates, both create their characters with depth and contradictory humanity; the film is told from Henry Burton’s point of view, and Adrian Lester is suitably engaging as the political virgin raped by the campaign. Ry Cooder’s music floats nicely in and out of our consciousness and the production design is detailed without being prissy."
Andrew L. Urban

"The idealist meets the pragmatic realist in Mike Nichols’ controversial Primary Colors, which takes a keen and sometimes cynical look at America’s top job, scratching rather viciously at times in the skeletal cupboards. It is interesting to speculate how Americans will take this sharp, frank and cutting glimpse into the political campaigning process and in particular the revealing peek backstage. Elaine May’s biting script has all the dynamics to not only present the complex characters as real, rounded and memorable individuals with humanity and identity, but to pace the action for maximum emotional impact. The performances are simply superb. Emma Thompson as the tough, intelligent and shrewd wife, gives a magnificent performance - strong and focused, yet multi-dimensional: she is the one with ruthless ambition, yet she hurts as a vulnerable human being. Travolta, a little mannered at times, delivers a convincing performance - the raspy southern accent, the greying locks, that boyish charm - as the would-be president who can’t keep his fly zipped up. And Nichols’ clever direction, with slightly out of focus shots and different angles, makes you actually believe that indeed this is Bill and Hilary Clinton. Adrian Lester is a force to be reckoned with in his impressive feature film debut, and they come no better than Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates, who are both absolutely marvellous, with poignant, deeply etched and totally engaging characters. Morality, honesty and ambition are the issues that are canvassed, and they are canvassed well. Politics is very much like showbusiness - the business is always on show. This is an intriguing (if a little long ) cinematic work."
Louise Keller

Email this article

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

PRIMARY COLORS (MA)
(US)

CAST: John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Maura Tierney, Larry Hagman, Diane Ladd, Paul Guilfoyle, Rebecca Walker, Caroline Aaron, Tommy Hollis, Rob Reiner, Stacy Edwards, AND Geraldo Rivera, Charlie Rose and Larry King as themselves (plus Australian actress Gia Carides in a cameo)

DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols

PRODUCER: Mike Nichols

SCRIPT: Elaine May

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Ballhaus

EDITOR: Arthur Scmidt

MUSIC: Ry Cooder

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bo Welch

RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: REP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: March 26, 1998







© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2017