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PRIMARY COLORS (1998) (****)

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This political satire by director Mike Nichols (THE GRADUATE), in my opinion, is perfect. It looks at the American political process in a new way for a fictional film. A party is named, but the story is universal. Left- or right-leaning viewers can both enjoy this film equally. Political junkies will make a ball picking out the real life counter parts to the film's fictional cast.

Based on the book of the same name by Anonymous, the film follows the primary campaign for the Democratic ticket of Southern governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta, PULP FICTION). Okay, okay, it's Bill Clinton -- Nichols does nothing to really hide who the film is really about. Emma Thompson (DEAD AGAIN) plays the Hillary Clinton-like Susan Stanton. Both actors become their characters fully and I was blown away by their performances. I think this is Travolta's best. However, the central character in the film is Henry Burton (Adrian Lester, LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST), the son of a black civil rights leader and an activist in his own right. He is roped into becoming a campaign manager and soon falls for the charming and surprisingly honest Stanton.

In addition, Kathy Bates (MISERY), in a deserving Oscar-nominated performance, plays Libby Holden, a lesbian friend of the Stantons who helps limit the amount of dirt that can be thrown at Jack. Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE) plays a James Carville-like, redneck campaign manager named Richard Jemmons, who truly says what he thinks and doesn't care how people react. Rounding out the cast is Maura Tierney (PRIMAL FEAR) as Daisy another one of the campaign workers who strikes up a relationship with Henry.

I could go on for days why I love this movie, but I'd end up describing every scene. The film is witty beyond belief and really doesn't matter which side of the political spectrum you're on to enjoy. The story captures all of the insider information, agendas, strategies and scandals that follow a person running for the president. What is most novel about the film is that it looks at the primaries, so ideology really never gets involved, making the film free to satirize the process not the politics. Most of all I love how the film addresses the moral fine line that anyone who's running for office has to balance on. Henry serves as a wonderful conduit for the audience to see the other characters through his eyes and makes us care about them even more.

Powerful performances, impeccable writing, humor and drama, all come together so effortlessly. So many classics in my book cover the gamut of emotions, combining both entertainment and substance. PRIMARY COLORS does this flawlessly. This is a modern masterpiece that cannot be missed.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks