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I must confess a shameful bit of ignorance. Prior to watching All the Way, you could fit everything I knew about Lyndon B. Johnson in a thimble and still have room for your thumb. He ran the country in the interim between one of our most beloved leaders and most hated; he was from Texas; according to Oliver Stone, he's largely responsible for escalating the Vietnam War. That about covers it.
If you're like me, this ignorance makes HBO's All the Way (based on a play) pretty enlightening. It isn't a biography, though the film paints a colorful picture of the man. It's mostly about Johnson's efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act and his uneasy alliance with Dr. Martin Luther King. Quite frankly, I had no idea that was LBJ's doing. Lower on Johnson's list of priorities is the conflict in Vietnam, which was just beginning to show signs of being a serious political problem. Similarly, the film renders the war a mere subplot.
As Johnson, Bryan Cranston is nothing short of amazing, practically disappearing into the role with the help of a pretty incredible make-up job. As a character under unbelievable political pressure from all sides, Johnson is sometimes cantankerous, bullish and just a bit paranoid (considering the circumstances in which he became president, it's understandable). But he's also depicted as a likable - sometimes amusingly crude - man who loves his family and whose heart is in the right place regarding the Civil Rights Act (though he's well-aware it could possibly destroy his career).
|LBJ entertains the crowd with dirty limericks.|
Anthony Mackie provides an effective foe as King, desperately wanting to trust this new president to make good on his promises, but never 100% certain he can. It should also be noted that, despite Mackie's prominent billing, he isn't in the film nearly as much as the trailers and box art suggest. Much of the film focuses on the gauntlet of opposition Johnson faced trying to push the act through, mostly from the South, while alienating many of his political allies (including longtime friend, Senator Richard Russell, played by Frank Langella). However, Senator Hubert Humphrey (Bradley Whitford) remains loyal, despite enduring a lot of verbal abuse from Johnson.
Not that we should get all of our history lessons from movies, but much of All the Way feels authentic and accurate. At the very least, it's entertaining, which is arguably more important. Though the entire cast is outstanding in their roles, Cranston is the main reason this works so well.
"Bryan Cranston Becoming LBJ" - A very short look at the make-up and prosthetics used)
"All the Way: A Walk Through History" - Though it includes scenes from the film, this is mostly about LBJ himself
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS