Primary Colors

The Dominator reviews

Primary Colors
Distributed by
Universal Pictures

Viewed atManchester Showcase Cinemas.
Telephone 0161 220 8765 for programme information


  • Cert: 15
  • Running time: 143 minutes
  • Year: 1998
  • Released: 30th October 1998
  • Widescreen Ratio : 2.35:1 (Panavision)
  • Rating: 8/10


    Mike Nichols

(Biloxi Blues, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Regarding Henry, Wolf)


    Mike Nichols


    Elaine May (based on the novel by Joe Klein)

Original Score :

    Ry Cooder

Cast :

    Gov. Jack Stanton: John Travolta (Broken Arrow, Carrie, Face/Off, Get Shorty, Grease, Look Who’s Talking Trilogy, Michael, Phenomenon, Pulp Fiction, White Man’s Burden)
    Susan Stanton: Emma Thompson (Carrington, Dead Again, Henry V, Howard’s End, Impromptu, In The Name Of The Father, Junior, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter’s Friends, Remains Of The Day, Sense And Sensibility, The Winter Guest)
    Richard Jemmons: Billy Bob Thornton (Armageddon, Sling Blade, U-Turn)
    Henry Burton: Adrian Lester
    Daisy Green: Maura Tierney (Liar Liar)
    Howard Ferguson: Paul Guilfoyle (Air Force One, Apache, Extreme Measures)
    Gov. Fred Picker: Larry Hagman (TV: “Dallas”, “Dallas: J.R. Returns”)
    Mamma Stanton: Diane Ladd (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Chinatown, Wild At Heart)
    Libby Holden: Kathy Bates (Dolores Claiborne, Misery, Titanic, White Palace)
    Izzy Rosenblatt: Rob Reiner (Bullets Over Broadway, Sleepless In Seattle, This Is Spinal Tap)
    Dewayne Smith: Mykelti Williamson (Con Air, Forrest Gump, Heat, Miracle Mile)
    Jennifer Rogers: Stacy Edwards (In The Company Of Men, TV: “Chicago Hope”)
    Cashmere McLeod: Gia Carides (Daydream Believer)
    Himself: Larry King (The Long Kiss Goodnight)

Primary Colors centres around a governor running for President namedJack Stanton who bears more than a passing resemblence to the current Americanpremier and who is also involved in a string of alleged affairs in his rise tothe top.

The film is easily described. Jack Stanton is one of a number of candidatesup for the job and the race is not always won by pointing out all your goodpoints to the electorate, but by seeing how far you can go to strike down allyour opponents. In all public situations, Stanton’s wife, Susan, is seenstanding by him in a firm show of support, but once the cameras stop rollingthe acting stops and little by little she begins to lose control as the hitskeep coming from his adulterous behaviour.

Not only does the film follow Stanton’s campaign as he travels from state tostate making his promises heard, but also that of the newcomer, a young blackman, Henry Burton, who is sometimes mis-used to get the ethnic vote where itmatters. I could go into great detail as to how the campaign pans out but itproves fascinating viewing.

The question you want answered though is whether Stanton becomesPresident… and this film keeps you guessing right until the final moment.

Head of the cast John Travolta does an admirable job as the Presidentwannabe. It may look that he’s not doing much by smiling a lot in some scenesand griping about the world in others, but try to picture Bill Clintonin the same situations and he could be a dead ringer in terms of behaviour.Similarly, Emma Thompson is just the same in the Hillary Clintonrole and equips herself well, something that surprised me as I’m not usuallya big fan of hers.

The real find here is that of Adrian Lester as Henry Burton, theyoung newcomer to the political scene. It was interesting to find that at timesthe story centres more on him than Jack Stanton, although a plotline involvinga conflict of interests between Henry and his girlfriend is never resolved.

Stanton’s political backbone is made up of good performances Billy BobThornton, Liar Liar‘s Maura Tierney and Paul Guilfoyle,last seen also in presidential circles in Air Force One. Kathy Batesis Stanton’s strongest ally in his bid for the top, although she doesn’t reallyget a chance to shine until the end.

The rest of the film is cameo-city with film director Rob Reiner as aradio talkshow host, Mykelti Williamson as a student taking part in anadult literacy programme early on in the film, Stacy Edwards, best knownas Chicago Hope‘s Dr. Cetera, who starts off helping to run the campaignbut becomes Kathy Bates’ right-hand woman, TV presenter Larry King ashimself once again, Larry Hagman playing someone other than J.R. fora change, but when’s he going to get a big-name role in his own right?; andGia Carides, as Cashmere McLeod, who alleges an affair with Stanton -the resemblence between her and one-time Clinton associate Gennifer Flowers isastounding.

Overall, originally I wasn’t expecting too much from this film but it turnsout to be an engaging soap opera with two-and-a-half hours of “will he, won’the” in the race to become President. There’s a couple of slow moments, but goodperformances all round – particularly from Travolta and Lester – and a worthystory grab the attention and make this a well-spent evening’s entertainment.

Review copyright © Dominic Robinson, 1998.

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