What You Need To Know:
LBJ doesn’t deal with the second half, more controversial part of Johnson’s presidency, when his handling of the Vietnam War was severely criticized. Nor does it deal with Johnson’s extravagant social welfare legislation. It paints a rosy, somewhat superficial picture of President Johnson’s conversion to civil rights advocate. Even so, it’s fairly entertaining and historically relevant, if a bit superficial and liberal. For example, it doesn’t mention Barry Goldwater’s conservative opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds. LBJ also contains plenty of strong foul language, so extreme caution is advised.
(BB, PP, C, Ro, RH, LLL, VV, S, A, D, M) Moral view of the early part of President Johnson’s term, promoting hard work, equal rights, freedom, duty, patriotism, justice, and opposition to racism concentrating on Johnson’s relationship with President Kennedy and his family, taking over when President Kennedy was assassinated and getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed with some Christian elements (as President Kennedy is suffering from his fatal wounds, Johnson says now is the time for prayer and a Southern senator prays with his fellow Southern politicians for the new President Johnson), but with a Romantic, liberal approach that ignores some historical facts that don’t fit in with the movie’s rosy picture of Johnson and his turnaround on civil rights issues (movie doesn’t mention Republicans helped get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed or that Barry Goldwater opposed the legislation on constitutional grounds, but focuses on Johnson rebuking his racist friend in the Democratic Party for opposing the Act); at least 41 obscenities (including about 10 “f” words), seven strong profanities, two light profanities, Lyndon Johnson makes Anti-Catholic slurs against John Kennedy, and Johnson is shown conducting a meeting while he’s on the toilet (his legs are shown as he openly “takes care of business”; strong violence when President Kennedy is shot in the head and news clips of civil rights violence; no depicted or implied sex (Johnson and his wife are shown in bed but not in a sexual way), but title character makes a few crude, gruff, sometimes intentionally comical sexual references, especially to male body parts; no nudity; alcohol use but no drunkenness includes Johnson takes his whiskey bottle to bed with him when he loses the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency to Kennedy; brief cigarette and cigar smoking, but no drug content; and, title character mocks one politician for relying on his conscience, but then depends on him when he has a civil rights law he wants passed, and title character makes a couple Anti-Catholic slurs when he’s running against John Kennedy for the 1960 Democratic nomination.
LBJ is an historical drama about the political life of Lyndon B. Johnson. The movie recounts the journey of how the most “successful Senate Majority Leader” of all time becomes the 36th President of The United States of America. Coaxed by his loving and supportive wife and confidante, Lady Bird Johnson, Johnson decides to run for the Democratic bid for the presidency against John F. Kennedy. As Johnson loses by a landslide, JFK is nominated to be the 35th President of the United States.
JFK invites Johnson to be his Vice President on the Democratic Party ticket. After weighing his political options, Johnson accepts and becomes Vice President under JFK. Johnson is portrayed as the most likable, crude man who ever existed. He’s determined to win over every person he encounters. In fact, he’s is often preoccupied with being “liked”. Combine his charm and uncanny ability to draw people to his way of thinking through storytelling with his hard work ethic, he is unstoppable. Johnson lives most of his life as a racist. His greatest supporter, Senator Russell, quips that the racist speech in opposition to a civil rights bill right on the floor of the senate some years earlier, given by Johnson, is one of the greatest speeches he ever made.
Johnson is faced with many challenges from his adversaries, including Kennedy himself, who strategically tries to placate Johnson in order to render him an ineffective politician. Johnson is assigned to found and oversee the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. The committee is actually a “dummy” committee that JKF uses to placate Johnson (later, after becoming president, Johnson would enshrine the EEOC as a major division in the Justice Dept.). Kennedy figures if Johnson is busy, he will not cause him or his administration any trouble. Aware of this, Johnson resolves to work harder and serve better. While JFK follows some of Johnson’s advice, the Attorney General, JFK’s politically ambitious brother Bobby, detests Johnson and tries to block his every move.
Johnson acts as a great politician and a masterful artist when it comes to bringing compromise between a strong racist contingency and an administration bent on bringing civil rights into law. A wavering Johnson gives in to the pressure of his southern white supremacist supporters and vehemently opposes JFK’s Civil Rights Act proposal. Faced with almost certain failure of getting the Civil Rights Act passed, there is an optimistic moment when JFK says, “We don’t do things because they’re easy. We do them because they’re hard.” Dismissing Johnson’s objection completely, JFK announces he will propose a Civil Rights Act.
Shortly, thereafter, America suffers the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jr, catapulting Vice President Johnson into instant the Presidency. Exhibiting compassion, strength and leadership, Johnson helps America recover after the assassination. In a blow to his Southern supporters in the Democratic Party, Johnson chooses to go against all of his supporters and continue the work of JFK. Discouraged even by civil rights supporters who thought he would fail, Johnson declares a “no compromise” strategy. Eventually, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed.
The movie now shows a different, empathetic Johnson with more conviction to do the right thing. In successive discussions with his extremely racist mentor, Russell, Johnson begins to abandon his previous positions, first as a racist and then as a “fence sitter.” He suddenly shifts to being a full supporter of the civil rights. Johnson gives attention to what is decent, right and fair. He softens and opens his heart and mind to the plight of the black population in America. He speaks sincerely of his relationship with his black cook, who he refers to as part of the family. Johnson’s love of neighbor helps him to rise above politics, and accomplishes what most thought to be impossible.
LBJ mostly focuses on the changes Johnson underwent when he became president. As noted above, he changes from being a “fence sitter” on the issue of new civil rights legislation to becoming one of its fiercest promoters. For example, at one point when discussing the Civil Rights Act with his greatest supporter and mentor, Senator Russell (who’s portrayed as a racist), Johnson says, “You are wrong on this. You are just plain wrong.” Russell throws back a threat, stating, “This will define your Presidency.” An unapologetic Johnson retorts, “I can only hope so.”
A stronger climax would serve to improve the storyline in LBJ. The movie’s flashbacks are a little confusing and slow down the movie’s momentum. Also, the beginning up until JFK’s inauguration is a bit slow moving, while the ending feels rushed. Overall, however, the movie is entertaining and historically relevant, if a bit superficial.
Taken as a whole, LBJ the movie has a strong moral, redemptive worldview promoting hard work, equal rights, freedom, duty, patriotism, justice, and opposition to racism, despite the title character’s frequent use of crude language. The movie also extols Christian prayer in a couple scenes. It still provides, however, a liberal, rosy picture of Johnson and his turnaround on civil rights issues. It really doesn’t deal with all the troubles LBJ encountered in handling the Vietnam War. It also fails to mention Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds. Finally, it fails to note that LBJ ultimately needed Republican votes to pass the groundbreaking piece of legislation.
LBJ contains plenty of strong obscenities and profanities. Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.