LBJ centers on the political upheaval that Vice President Johnson faced when he was thrust into the presidency at the hands of an assassin's bullet in November 1963. With political battles on both sides of the aisle, Johnson struggles to heal a nation and secure his presidency by passing Kennedy's historic Civil Rights Act.
The first thing you will notice about Woody Harrelson's portrayal of the 36th president are his comically large ears. While President Johnson did have large ears, they were not the distracting dumbo- esque prosthetics shown in the film. This perfectly encapsulates LBJ as a film, focusing on a few surface features and events without ever diving into who Lyndon Baines Johnson really was.
It is certainly odd for a biopic of a president to end a few weeks into his presidency and leaving his greatest accomplishments to be told on the ending title cards. The focus instead was on his vice presidency under Kennedy where he actively undermined the Civil Rights Act that would later be the crowning accomplishment of his presidency.
It is clear that its release was pushed back to distance itself from "All the Way" the other LBJ biopic made by HBO last year. While Woody Harrelson gives a good performance through his prosthetics, it lacks the depth of Bryan Cranston's performance, though the fault is mostly on the script for failing to give him the opportunity. Jennifer Jason Leigh is solid as Lady Bird and Richard Jenkins is good as Senator Dick Russell of Georgia. However Michael Stahl-David was underwhelming as Bobby Kennedy, making him a petty and spiteful character.
All in all, LBJ is an acceptable biopic that doesn't try to do too much, but would be much better if it was farther removed from the superior "All the Way."
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