Primary ColorsMarch 20, 1998
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
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
Governor Jack Stanton
Billy Bob Thornton
Gov. Fred Picker
William McCullison (Fat Willie)
What went down on the way to the top.
Release Date: 20 March 1998
Filming Locations: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $12,045,395
(22 March 1998)
(21 June 1998)
Did You Know?
John Travolta gained 30 pounds to play Jack Stanton.
Stanton's hand positions during speech to senior citizens.
That's how history is made, Henry – by the first-timers.
An excellent political satire.
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.