Primary Colors (1998)



Critic Consensus: Well acted and suprisingly funny.

Movie Info

Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May crafted a near-perfect adaptation of the 1996 best-seller, a hilarious and troubling fictional account of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, and recent events make it only more relevant.

Rating: R (For strong language and sexual references)
Genre: Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Elaine May
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 8, 1998


as Gov. Jack Stanton

as Susan Stanton

as Richard Jemmons

as Libby Holden

as Henry Burton

as Gov. Fred Picker

as Mamma Stanton

as Howard Ferguson

as Lucille Kaufman

as Fat Willie

as Izzy Rosenblatt

as Norman Asher

as Dewayne Smith

as Arlen Sporken

as Uncle Charlie

as Miss Walsh

as Tawana Carter

as Brad Lieberman

as Randy Culligan

as Himself

as Himself

as Sailorman Shoreson

as Lawrence Harris

as Martha Harris

as Elegant Woman

as Charlie Martin

as Lorenzo Delgado

as Eddie Reyes

as Jimmy Ozio

as Jack Mandela Washing...

as Anthony Ramirez

as Peter Goldsmith

as Jennifer Rogers

as Ella Louise

as Bart Nilson

as Cashmere McLeod

as Dr. Beauregard

as Danny Scanlon

as Himself

as Chubby Woman

as Shipyard Announcer

as Linda Feldstein

as Retiree

as Bugger Bugger Woman
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Primary Colors

All Critics (75) | Top Critics (21)

As satire, it's toothless and indulgent; as drama of conscience, it's not a patch on real life...

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Travolta's warmth and expansiveness effectively amplify and embellish the likable and personable side of Stanton.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Top Critic

A smart and savvy piece of work.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Dramatically weak.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Top Critic

The film seldom displays much in the way of directorial hallmarks.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
New York Times
Top Critic

Primary Colors is the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington of our jaded era.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Primary Colors

This movie did not age well. There's a scene early in the democratic primary race where everyone in a packed diner is glued to the small television set, watching and commenting on an interview - "Today Show" style - of our candidate and his wife. Either our political culture was very different back in 1992, or this is an example of the movie's unrealistic, self-absorbed sensationalism. Without any clear sense of direction, we watch the plot stumble into one manufactured problem after another. Instead of insight into modern politics, we get guns, drugs, heart attacks, old men sleeping with 17 year olds, and gay sex - all in one race to become the democratic nominee.

Matthew Slaven
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer


Primary Colours is a political satire following a southern governor who bears a striking resemblance to Bill Clinton on his presidential campaign trail. This film was obviously aimed far more at mainstream audiences than I was hoping for and so seems very tame to anyone used to the likes of The Thick Of It or even 70s sitcom Yes Minister. The story is shown through the eyes of the idealistic grandson of a civil rights activist played by Adrian Lester, but as we don't get to learn much about him, there is little in the way of emotional involvement; in fact the whole "human drama" aspect of it felt very forced. Travolta's drawling womaniser is shown to be basically an honest and straight talking man with one flaw, and this lack of satirical bite also compromises his character. What does make this film however are the supporting characters; partly Billy Bob Thornton's red neck adviser but mainly Kathy Bates who tears through the film like a large lesbian version of hurricane Katrina. She has the best character and most of the best lines as a disillusioned ex-activist but once again the outcome of her part in the story felt a bit contrived and hollow. It does have wit, intelligence and a message, namely that this era of spin is a Frankenstain's monster that the complicity of a gossip-hungry public and sensationalist media have helped create, and it is always engaging; I just wished it had the cynical, satirical teeth to go in for the kill.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

A well done, if though occasionally flawed, political comedy/drama that features two golden performances from John Travolta and Kathy Bates. While it does get over-dramatic at some parts and some of the characters could've been fleshed out a tad better, for the most part this is a well executed take on politics and how the people involved in them are never what they seem to be. I wish they had left the ending open-ended and daring the viewer to make their own choice as to what they would do in the situation posed in the film's conclusion, but I understand Nichols instead going with the more accepting finale.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

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