Primary Colors

March 20th, 1998


more trailers Primary Colors

Still of John Travolta and Adrian Lester in Primary ColorsStill of John Travolta in Primary ColorsCarrie Fisher at event of Primary ColorsStill of John Travolta and Emma Thompson in Primary ColorsJohn Travolta and Kelly Preston at event of Primary ColorsAnne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres at event of Primary Colors

A man joins the political campaign of a smooth-operator candidate for president of the USA.

Release Year: 1998

Rating: 6.7/10 (17,123 voted)

Critic's Score: 70/100

Director: Mike Nichols

Stars: John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates

Jack Stanton is running for president. The election is seen through the eyes of young Henry Burton. Along the way Stanton must deal with a sex scandal.

Writers: Joe Klein, Elaine May

John Travolta - Governor Jack Stanton
Emma Thompson - Susan Stanton
Billy Bob Thornton - Richard Jemmons
Kathy Bates - Libby Holden
Adrian Lester - Henry Burton
Maura Tierney - Daisy Green
Larry Hagman - Gov. Fred Picker
Diane Ladd - Mamma Stanton
Paul Guilfoyle - Howard Ferguson
Rebecca Walker - March
Caroline Aaron - Lucille Kaufman
Tommy Hollis - William McCullison (Fat Willie)
Rob Reiner - Izzy Rosenblatt
Ben Jones - Arlen Sporken
J.C. Quinn - Uncle Charlie

Taglines: What went down on the way to the top.

Release Date: 20 March 1998

Filming Locations: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $65,000,000(estimated)

Opening Weekend: $12,045,395 (USA) (22 March 1998) (1965 Screens)

Gross: $38,966,057 (USA) (21 June 1998)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

John Travolta gained 30 pounds to play Jack Stanton.

Continuity: Stanton's hand positions during speech to senior citizens.

Susan Stanton: That's how history is made, Henry - by the first-timers.

User Review

An excellent political satire.

Rating: 10/10

The much under-rated Primary Colors represents the zenith of its genre: a consistently excellent political satire armed with a stellar cast, an involving, intricate plot, and some of the finest direction in recent times from the sporadic (yet always reliable) Mike Nichols. John Travolta's portrayal of a Clinton-esquire Southern governor with a weakness for women and doughnuts is note perfect, encapsulating the flawed yet undoubtedly brilliant Jack Stanton with effortless flair and charisma. Travolta is ably supported by English character actors Emma Thompson and big screen debutant Adrian Lester, as well as an Oscar nominated Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton and a resurgent Larry Hagman.

The film is, in essence, a chronology of Stanton's rise of the political ladder and the struggles encountered by his vibrant team in keeping their man in the race, despite numerous setbacks and tragedies along the way. The script gives Travolta a perfect platform to express the very human emotions that both constrain and encourage us: his early speeches (particularly at an adult literacy centre) are punctuated by salient (yet entirely falsified) anecdotes, and were are given equal insight into Stanton the man and Stanton the politician. Thus the film's fundamental paradox arises: the audience is clearly conditioned to sympathise with Stanton as a result of his remarkable eloquence, yet we are frequently undercut by revelations of sex scandals, endless untruths and the often heartless pragmatism he embarks upon. This conflict for the audience is superbly manipulated so that, at the film's conclusion, we are unsure as to what our own emotions should be. Few films manage to pull this off: fewer with the nuanced skill of Nichols' political odyssey.

I want to add a few words about the female performances in the film. Emma Thompson, as the Hilary Clinton of the the cast, nails both the accent and mannerisms of her model with a convincing determination. Her character is often the mediator among the campaign team, yet there is a ruthlessness about her, a quiet conviction in her actions that her husband is clearly sustained by. Kathy Bates is the unhinged lesbian media consultant who is drafted in to nullify the potent threat of negative media reporting. She clearly gets all the best lines (a prize shared with the equally crazy Billy Bob Thornton character) including a memorable reference to Stanton's string of lovers as "sorry trash bins": scrupulous editing on my part here. At the film's conclusion, Bates comes to the fore, spelling out the impossible conflict between what is politically right and what is humanly right with an intensity that few actors could accomplish. Her subsequent Oscar nomination was well deserved and she was unlucky to be pitted against a triumphant Judi Dench in the Best Supporting Actress category.

That said, this is Travolta's movie. This is a career-defining performance from an actor unfortunately sullied by a series of mind-numbing duds (Battlefield Earth, anyone?), yet had he chosen his roles more wisely (as, say, Pacino has done) a more creditable media image would most certainly have been forthcoming.

Don't be put off by its subject matter: this is film making at its best and is a credit to its highly talented cast and crew.