Rob Reiner’s LBJ is set for its world premiere tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival, hopefully capping off a spectacular fest that has seen its fair share of Oscar-contenders. The movie stars Woody Harrelson as the acerbic President Lyndon Johnson, who served as Vice President under John Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) and finally became President himself following Kennedy’s assassination in November, 1963.
Native Texan Woody Harrelson seems an ideal actor for the role of Johnson, and he proves it in this most recent clip from LBJ. Recounting a childhood experience to some members of his staff, Harrelson draws out LBJ’s famous humor and insouciance, without making him seem like a caricature. That’s a hard line to walk, given the bravado of Johnson himself, but it appears that this actor is more than up for the task.
How far this film will go into Johnson’s legacy is an open question. The official plot synopsis emphasizes Johnson’s ascension to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, his conflicts with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins), and the way that he ultimately championed for the Civil Rights Act that would be one of his most enduring presidential accomplishments.
Last year’s Selma gave a very different view of Johnson and his relationship with Civil Rights, in the performance of Tom Wilkinson, than LBJ is likely to produce. Certainly Harrelson’s performance in this clip is already more likable than Wilkinson’s, and this is obviously a different political perspective. But it’s always nice to see the good and the bad, the need to walk the line in politics and, occasionally, to take a leap of faith. Reiner is an intelligent filmmaker and will hopefully provide a nuanced portrait of the President, rather than going for maudlin sentimentality.