If I were an actor, the thought of playing a historical figure would come with many pros and cons. I mean the chance to play someone who more than likely had an effect on everyday life would be too appealing to pass up. The problem would be exactly that, living up to whatever greatness was in that person and looking the part as well. Now when I say, “looking the part” what I am referring to is quite simply looking like the guy you are playing. In the past there has been some great ones, like Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, but with actors like that they just don’t look the figure, they become them.
The next actor to be included in that list would have to be Woody Harrelson, who becomes Lyndon B. Johnson in his portrayal for Rob Reiner’s new film “LBJ”. Johnson as you know had the difficult task of taking over for one of the most popular Presidents ever after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson who was from Texas was the Senate Majority Leader who got on the Kennedy ticket after losing to JFK in the democratic primaries. Johnson was wanted to help Kennedy carry the south during the election. After Kennedy won, Johnson was put in charge of something important, but what would also keep him out of the way. That all changed on November 22nd 1963 as he assumes the Presidency after JFK’s death. Johnson who was a world apart on Kennedy’s progressive agenda slowly came to see things his way and after his death carried out his agenda, assuring Kennedy’s legacy as well as his own.
Reiner who might not have seemed like the first choice to deliver a film like this doesn’t drop the ball on delivery. While that might sound like a back-handed compliment, it really isn’t, as making a film like this good can be a challenge. It is that way because you are not dealing with a story you made up, but rather stories that are taught in schools. Reiner and writer Joey Hartstone decide to tell the story from the present to the past, meaning that they start with the landing in Dallas on the day of and go back to the past that lead up to Johnson being there in the first place. That choice works well, but what really makes the picture work is the performance of Harrelson, who disappears and becomes the larger than life man that was LBJ. Harrelson isn’t the only good performance, as the rest of the cast is top notch as well, but his is the one that stands out the most. In context of films about historical characters “LBJ” is good enough, but doesn’t quite reach greatness. The thing it has going for it the most is Harrelson, who might give one of the better performances of his career. It is that reason alone why you should watch this and along the way you might learn something about inheriting the responsibility of the entire nation.