Primary Colors

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Based on the best-selling novel by Anonymous (a.k.a. political reporter Joe Klein) and released when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in full bloom, Primary Colors is a thinly-fictionalized and comedic account of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Although tied to real-life events, when considered apart from the Clinton scandals and judged on its own considerable merits, this superb comedy-drama provides an illuminating, insightful, and frequently hilarious look at the harsh realities of presidential politics. John Travolta stars as Jack Stanton, a presidential hopeful whose campaign is challenged by dual dilemmas: how to squelch a scandal involving the candidate’s alleged sex with an underage girl, and how to handle information that could potentially ruin Stanton’s opponent (wickedly played by Larry Hagman). Stanton’s wife (Emma Thompson) stands by her man despite awareness of his infidelities, but his loyal campaign planners (Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney, and promising newcomer Adrian Lester) experience a crisis of conscience. So does one of the Stantons’ oldest friends (Kathy Bates, in an Oscar-nominated role), whose sense of betrayal and lost idealism proves too much to bear. Masterfully adapted by Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols and his former-comedy-partner-turned-screenwriter, Elaine May, Primary Colors plays like a sophisticated comedy with loads of memorable scenes and dialogue, but its cumulative effect is one of devastating dramatic impact as it spins its complex story of the volatile and ethically complicated game of modern politics.