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Path to War (2002)

TV Movie  |   |  Drama  |  18 May 2002 (USA)
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In the mid-1960s, President Johnson and his foreign-policy team debate the decision to withdraw from or escalate the war in Vietnam.



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Title: Path to War (TV Movie 2002)

Path to War (TV Movie 2002) on IMDb 7.5/10

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Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 26 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Richard Goodwin
General Earle G. Wheeler
Everett Dirksen
Marny Clifford
Luci Baines Johnson
Walt Rostow
Adam Yarmolinsky


A portrayal of the Johnson presidency and its spiraling descent into the Vietnam War. Acting on often conflicting advice from his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara and other advisers, President Johnson finds his domestic policy agenda for the Great Society overtaken by an ever demanding commitment to ending the war. It also depicts his political skills as he crosses swords with political foes such as Bobby Kennedy and Governor George Wallace. Despite support and encouragement from stalwart friends such as Clark Clifford, Johnson realizes his management of the war no longer has the confidence of the American people and announces that he will not seek the nomination of the Democratic party for the the 1968 election. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


While one war was being fought in Vietnam another was being fought in the White House. See more »




See all certifications »


Official Sites:



Release Date:

18 May 2002 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Sur le chemin de la guerre  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$17,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Gary Sinise:  Gov. George Wallace. He previously played Wallace in George Wallace (1997), also directed by John Frankenheimer. The footage of Wallace on television is from Sinise's performance in that film. In the scene right after he is also showed taking a publicly shot with LBJ, then talking to LBJ then ending with a press conference. See more »


When Johnson is praying in the church, footage is shown of aircraft being launched from a carrier. The second aircraft is an F-14 Tomcat, which wasn't introduced until 1974. See more »


Lyndon Baines Johnson: How many planes will we lose?
Gen. Earle 'Buzz' Wheeler: 20 to 25.
Lyndon Baines Johnson: How many casualties?
Gen. Earle 'Buzz' Wheeler: 50.
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense: 50 to 300 is my estimate, and if the bombs miss, it can go as high as 12,000, with fifty percent of these civilians and fifty percent of those killed.
Gen. Earle 'Buzz' Wheeler: Of course, we don't plan these strikes to miss our targets.
Lyndon Baines Johnson: But you do miss sometimes. And this time you could hit a Russian ship. And the bomber pilot will be a kid from Johnson City, Texas, and that'll be the kid that starts World War III, thank you very much.
See more »


References George Wallace (1997) See more »


Hail to the Chief
Written by James Sanderson & Sir Walter Scott (as Walter Scott)
Performed by The Rick Fleishman Orchestra
Played when LBJ arrives in Saigon
See more »

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User Reviews

Lyndon Johnson: Tragic Figure?
8 September 2006 | by (Manitoba, Canada) – See all my reviews

Well-made, at times moving HBO dramatization of the goings-on within the White House as the Vietnam War escalated under Lyndon Johnson.

Michael Gambon plays the U.S. president as a sort of tragic figure torn between his passion for "Great Society" social programs and a resiliency to win the war. The Johnson seen in PATH TO WAR is certainly not the war-monger that protesters of his day alleged. He's meticulous and thoughtful, though perhaps too easily persuaded by his advisers, most notably Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin in his most memorable performance in a long time) and Clark Clifford (an equally superb Donald Sutherland).

In his final film, director John Frankenheimer could be criticized for being a touch soft on Johnson. But this approach, fair or not, serves the film well, allowing us to more easily empathize with the straight-talking Texan. He had men of very high stature and respect telling him that just one more bombing, just one more plane full of troops, just a few more months and the war would be won. The viewer has the 20/20 hindsight of history, but Frankenheimer was careful to remind us that Johnson did not. This makes for some emotional moments. Scenes of the reluctant war president signing sympathy letters for families of the fallen are quietly moving, as is his trip to meet with the wounded in Vietnam. Just as poignant is the instance of Johnson stomping out of a meeting, instructing a speech writer that because of the war's costs, there could be no mention of his beloved Great Society in the next State of the Union address. It seems all Johnson wanted was a better life for Americans; all he got was a bloody quagmire.

As the film and war rage on, body counts rising, Johnson unravels. Consumed by years of warfare with no end in sight, he becomes tense, bitter and worn down. Whether they like Johnson or not, the viewer feels the weight on his shoulders. Even someone unfamiliar with how this story ends could predict it from watching PATH TO WAR. To conclude the 165-minute running time, Johnson delivers his famous televised address announcing he would not seek re-election. He may have wanted to, yet knew he could not.

PATH TO WAR is a sharp interpretation of a tragically fascinating era. Unlike some other versions of political history (Oliver Stone, anyone?), the film never comes off as mean-spirited, even toward characters who remain infamous. It is a straightforward look at the complexities of the often-muddy waters of war and politics. It is also a quite memorable piece of work.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Typical Hollywood tkema468
Superb, bravo! jk80
Always figured Johnson to be more of a hard-ass MisterKyle
The war was lost before it was fought dazfiddy
Alterior Motives?....... fjkj123
Why was Gary Sinise not credited cfosdick
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