ALL THE WAY
US, 2016, 137 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Cranston, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Anthony Mackie, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Ray Wise, Joe Morton.
Directed by Jay Roach.
It is surprising that there has not been a feature film about President Lyndon B. Johnson – after all, Oliver Stone had made JFK, Nixon, W. While there was drama in his life, it was not quite as colourful as that of the other presidents. His rise to power was fate rather than destiny.
The lacuna has now been filled by HBO television with a very effective drama directed by Jay Roach, who had moved from comedies like those of Austin Powers and the Meet the Parents series to political dramas like Recount, the story of the 2000 election and the recount in Florida, Game Change, the picture of Sarah Pailin and the presidential campaign of 2008 as well as the drama about celebrated screenwriter, Trumbo.
This is blessed with an excellent portrayal of Lyndon Johnson by Bryan Cranston, so welI-known from the US television series, Breaking Bad, and who also portrayed Dalton Trumbo. The supporting cast is very strong with Melissa Leo, a very versatile actress, often in very strong and demanding roles, as Lady Bird Johnson, and Frank Langella is the veteran politician Dick Russell who acted as a mentor to Johnson but who disagreed with him about Civil Rights legislation.
Anthony Mackie appears as Martin Luther King, seen in his contact with Johnson, phone calls, political arguments, support, despite some reactions from the more active younger generation of black activists. This is particularly true of the episode in Mississippi where volunteers when down to Mississippi to campaign for the vote for Blacks and three were murdered.
The film opens, of course, with the death of JFK and Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office, pondering the Oval Office, getting support from his wife and from Dick Russell. Johnson seemed to support the Civil Rights movement of 1963 and JFK’s planned legislation, pushing it through, with strong opposition from the Democrats from the South, even a filibuster of over two months in Congress. Gradually, he got his way.
The film also features J. Edgar Hoover and his advice to presidents and his hostility to Martin Luther King.
Most of the film is concerned with the campaign for the presidency of 1964, with Barry Goldwater as his Republican opponent. It is difficult to go back to the era and see the hostility from the southern Democrats, governors of Alabama and Mississippi even walking out of the July convention. While Johnson was sometimes prone to doubt, even physically overcome by it, in his politicking he was very strong, very demanding, cutting off telephone calls when he finished what he wanted to say, while making speeches which were ultimately successful.
Robert Mc Namara is present as Secretary of Defense and the early years of the Vietnam war with confrontations in the Golf of Tongan and the meaning of Johnson slogan, All The Way, in following him and allies into the Vietnam war.
A very interesting contribution to picturing an understanding the 1960s in American politics.
1. The title? Lyndon Johnson slogan? Its status in the 60s? All the way with Johnson for civil rights? American involvement in Vietnam?
2. The work of the director? His early comedies and spoofs? The transition to American politics? His strong cast?
3. Interest in films on American presidents but not Lyndon Johnson? This opportunity, Johnson as a person, his character, principles, politically?
4. The situation in the 1960s? November 22, 1963, the assassination of JFK, the scenes in Dallas, the blood on the seat of the car? Johnson and his presence on the plane, taking the presidential oath? Jackie Kennedy and her grief? His return to Washington? The support of his wife? Going into the Oval Office, contemplation? His role in history – fate rather than destiny?
5. United States in 1963, politics, the President, the clash with Cuba, with the Soviet Union? The importance of the civil rights movement? Kennedy and Martin Luther King? Johnson inheriting the task?
6. Bryan Cranston and his performance as Johnson, the skill of the impersonation, the revelation of character? Age, Texas background, his relationship with Lady Bird – affectionate but often brusque? His daughters, having wanted a son? His reputation, his early hard life, his wife financing his campaigns, success, involvement in politics, chosen by Kennedy as his running mate? Sharing his perspective? The role of the Democratic party in the 1960s?
7. The significance of the character of Dick Russell, bold, Johnson seeing him as an uncle, mentor? His hard-line, race attitudes? His ideas on legislation? His Conservative group of Democrats? Their planning, the pressure on Johnson? In the Congress, the monster filibuster? Russell and his continued contact with Johnson, conceding, congratulating him on the election?
8. The American south of the time, the roles of the Democrats, Gov Wallace in Alabama? The governor of Mississippi? Their walking out of the 1964 Convention? The phone call to the governor of Georgia?
9. Johnson, on taking the presidency, the year before elections? The campaigns of 1964? Barry Goldwater and the Republicans? The struggle, the attitudes of the South, the Convention? Johnson handling people? His being strong, robust and even rough? Demanding on people? On his wife? And yet his physical condition, his previous heart attack, taking to his bed, touches of desperation?
10. Martin Luther King, 1963, his speech? His presence supporting Johnson, with his wife? The discussions and phone calls with Johnson? Johnson shrewd, talking on the phone as much as he wanted then hanging up? Issues of civil rights legislation, the issue of African- American voting or not? King’s personal life, the criticisms, his liaisons, Johnson tolerant of these? Hoover and the FBI, the antipathy towards King? The black discussions, Abernathy and the other leaders, the younger more revolutionary types? Politics and principles? Opportunities? Trusting in Johnson? The volunteers in Mississippi, their being murdered? The discussions, King’s visit, the speaker in protest at the funeral? The passing of the laws? King receiving the Nobel peace prize? His subsequent history? Walter, Johnson relying on him for so many years, efficient, warding off attacks, his family and six children, the shock of his arrest, Lady Bird’s reaction, Johnson seeing it as a betrayal?
11. The role of Hubert Humphrey, as a character in himself, Democrat, loyal, hard work, the butt of Johnson’s remarks? His staying? Policies, decisions, tactics? His being named as vice president and the effect on him? In view of his subsequent failure in 1968?
12. The themes of Vietnam, 1964, Robert Mc Namara, the Gulf of Tonkin, American involvement, troops, the war and the consequences for Johnson?
13. Hoover, his long history, the FBI? In himself, his prejudices, his advice to presidents, the taping of the black discussions and King? His reaction to the Nobel prize? His discussions with Johnson, Johnson and his abrupt dealing with Hoover, getting him to take responsibility?
14. The campaign, the speeches, the phone call to the Georgia governor, persuading him? His going to the Democrats, his speech about civil rights, the appeal, Johnson at his best when strong?
15. The clips of Barry Goldwater?
16. Lady Bird, her character, her patience with her husband, always supporting, a brave face, her thoughts in her own right? His philandering – and her comment that he always came home to her?
17. Lyndon Johnson winning, President? The experience, the party, talking with Dick Russell, his joy?
18. The aftermath, not continuing for the presidency, illness, death? His legacy?