“LBJ”: Rob Reiner’s new film soft-pedals LBJ’s “accidental” presidency after Kennedy

I recall a drizzly late fall Election Day in 1964, after I had turned 21, when my father said, “Nobody can beat LBJ”.

And I remember the Sunday evening in Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, SC, March 31, 1968, a day I had cleaned a grease pit with a toothbrush, one of the lowest days of my life, hearing that LBJ would not accept a nomination for a second full term as “your president” in that year of “Medium Cool”.

LBJ” is a nice biopic by Rob Reiner, from Castle Rock Entertainment, with unusual distribution through Electric Entertainment.

The first half of the film walks through the day Kennedy was assassinated, with LBJ (Woody Harrelson) recalling earlier days in his career, when Kennedy needed him on the ticket in the 1960 election but then had to rein him in.   Johnson, while able to use the word “negro” with a bit of condescension, found himself moving toward Kennedy’s  (Jeffrey Donovan) thinking on civil rights, while fighting off powerful senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), especially on deal to put a defense plant in Georgia and hire token blacks as engineers. Johnson also expresses his political cynicism to Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David).  LBJ’s own experience with his own housekeeper helps shape his views toward progress, while Russell makes phony arguments about “freedom”.

The American public was not told of Kennedy’s death for 38 minutes, while LBJ mulled being sworn in immediately in Dallas on the plane, out of fear of a bigger conspiracy.

The film bypasses the Cuban Missile Crisis completely, and makes only brief references to Vietnam, which would heat up in 1965, after the time period covered by the film.

LBJ was capable of being quite crude in his talk, like about his clothes and tailor (“Sartor Researtus” indeed), and Ladybird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) covers for him, even in bed.

Name:  “LBJ
Director, writer:  Rob Reiner
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/5, afternoon, good audience
Length:  98
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Electric Releasing, Castle Rock
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

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