Path to War

2002

Biography / Drama

4
IMDb Rating 7.4

Synopsis


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165 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by dromasca 8/10

It is hard to watch 'Path to War' and avoid remarking the similarity betweenhistoric and present circumstances. Although dedicated to the presidency ofLyndon Johnson, the film brings to mind the situations the current USPresident had to face - after being elected on an internal social agenda, hehas to face an external conflict and runs down on a spiral towards anexternal war costly in American and other peoples human lives. The film isinteresting by itself, although there may be many comments to be made on theaccuracy of the historical details. 'Path to War' also succeeds better thanother films in bringing to screen historical characters and giving them alife of their own - Johnson, Clark Clifford, Bob McNamara are well builtfilm characters in the film. I recommend this film, and not only to thehistory fans - 8 out of 10 on my personal scale.

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Reviewed by Elizabeth Rose

This is a good movie, and includes some very good performances. It is notagreat movie, however. While the writer understood that the complexity ofthe Vietnam &quot;problem&quot; lay in the various individuals involved in &quot;The Pathto War,&quot; he misunderstood where the contradictions and conflicts of thosecharacters lay.<br><br>For example, given the material, and in spite of a peculiar attempt atLBJ'sTexas accent, Michael Gambon acquits himself well as LBJ. He has themannerisms down pat. And the writer does appreciate LBJ's vulgarity(whichcould be quite offputting, and was for many people). However, in hisattempt to lionize LBJ, he misses the point. LBJ was a politician who gothimself elected as a populist candidate with the concept of &quot;The GreatSociety,&quot; but was always supportive of the actions in Vietnam. (Forexample, the writer conveniently places the *pivotal* Gulf of Tonkinincident outside the scope of the movie and it is only mentioned once,briefly, in an aside. As a result, based on this movie's version ofevents,and without being aware of the consequences of the Gulf of Tonkin, bothdomestically and in Vietnam, a viewer would think that LBJ was some kindofbenevolent monarch, which actually does him a disservice.)<br><br>The writer makes LBJ seem like a victim of circumstance, when in fact hewasvery much of control of events, witnessed by the amount of legislation heput in front of Congress in five-plus years. This is noted in aconversation LBJ has with Lady Bird in the movie, but it is made to seemlike LBJ placed the legislation for philosophical and principled reasons,when his primary motivation was based on two things: His best years wereasa legislator and he knew that side of the government best, and it waspolitically advantageous for him to do what he knew best.<br><br>One could also say that he was dogged by the memory of JFK. He knew hehadbeen elected on JFK's bootstraps, so to speak, and the writer does paysomelip service to this issue. Yet, the writer does not touch on the shameandguilt LBJ felt about JFK's death, which, while he was not complicit, heknewhad been politically motivated within the government. And for all hisprofessed desire for social change, he never once called the WarrenCommission to task for their idiotic findings, and he was alwaysconflictedabout that, as well. It was politically expedient to let it &quot;die,&quot; but itwas not the right thing to do, and he knew it.<br><br>All through his Presidency, he felt the Kennedys nipping at his heels, so,for example, he knew if he pushed the Voting Rights Act, he'd not onlylookgood next to the Kennedy legacy, but also have a slew more voters to votefor him the next election. (In one kudo to the writer, he does appreciateLBJ's dislike of Bobby Kennedy, who was, ironically, as political ananimalas LBJ himself was. In fact LBJ's assessment in the movie of Bobby as notbeing &quot;One-tenth the person his brother was&quot; is actually considered bymanyto be true, and also plays on the truism that we tend to dislike in otherswhat we most dislike about ourselves.)<br><br>The tragedy, if we look on LBJ as a tragic hero, is that there was no nextelection for him because of Vietnam. The problem is that the real LBJ hadthe tragic hero's fatal flaw (in his case, a problematic mixture ofindecisiveness and arrogance, which led to poor leadership skills), sowhenthe tragedy comes, it does not bear the poignancy it should. The onlytimewe actually get a glimpse of LBJ's character defects is during oneconversation with one member of his staff. (Some might argue that hisquestions of his cabinet would also demonstrate this deficit, but that wasactually one of his strengths: When he did not know something, he was notafraid to admit it and go to the person who did know. This&quot;consensus-building&quot; aspect of his personality was one of the things thatmade him an excellent legislator.)<br><br>Did LBJ have some commitment to social change? He did, and it was bestdemonstrated during his tenure in Congress, representing the people ofTexas, not during his tenure as President. The writer does make a briefpass at this when he refers to his regrets at ever associating himselfwiththe Kennedy Presidency, that it was his political undoing. (And manyhistorians do, in fact, believe this is true.)<br><br>Another character the writer fails to fully grasp is McNamara. McNamarawasalways full of conflict regarding Vietnam, and yet we don't start to seethis in the character until the very end of the movie. Alec Baldwin playsthe writer's version of McNamara well, but it was not an accurateportrayalof McNamara, at least not in the eyes of his contemporaries. That is notBaldwin's fault, but the writer and director's fault.<br><br>Another lost opportunity is Felicity Huffman's portrayal of Lady BirdJohnson. This is an excellent actress who has done the best with whatshe'sgiven, but she's given so little, when there was so much more to LadyBird'scharacter at this period in history. The only hint we see is when shereminds LBJ that the footsteps she's following &quot;didn't die.&quot; In fact, theoffset between Lady Bird's presence as First Lady and LBJ's as Presidentiscontradiction that is not even explored - while Lady Bird continued in herdesire to see social change (she is rightly credited for having a strong,positive impact on the growing environmental movement, for example),something she had shared with her husband for many years - LBJ is buffetedby political forces that actually pull him away from some of the socialidealism that many saw in him in Congress, including his friend ClarkClifford. That juxtaposition would have not only made a stronger movie,butwould have been more historically accurate.<br><br>As for Clifford, that is the one character that comes through fullyrealized, convincing and true: Donald Sutherland's portrayal of ClarkClifford. (Who was a family friend to our family as well.) The writerhaspresented his character, and his contradictions, very well, and, as aresult, Donald Sutherland, always an able actor, is able to not just makethe best of the material, but take it to the award-winning level heachieved.<br><br>Frankenheimer's direction, as always, is good. But this is not his bestmovie. It has pacing issues, some throwaway scenes, and some scenes thatshould have been included and weren't. As a result this is not the bestpolitical movie you will ever see. Although, if you consider that thebrush used is broad, it does show how complex and political our slipperyslope into Vietnam generally was.

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Reviewed by Onthethreshold 9/10

effort at depicting the essence of Lyndon Johnson and his tragic presidency. Michael Gambon is a superb actor and his portrayal of the 36th president isby far the best I've seen yet. Most films depict LBJ as essentially someTexan buffoon without a clue. In reality, Johnson was a superb politicianwhose hopes and dreams for his country were ultimately thwarted by a war henever wanted in the first place. 'Path to War' shows how a man with all thestrength, talent and skill to do potentially great things finds himselflosing the battle on both fronts. The war on poverty that he so dearly caredfor being defeated by the war in Vietnam, and as his own administration andthe country turn against him, the downfall of a politicalgiant.<br><br>I would suggest that this film be shown in high school classrooms as a wayto educate our young people about LBJ, the man, his times and his legacy.Vilifed though he may be by many, 'Path to War' is truly a fantasticportrayal of the human side of the man and how he struggled to do what hethought was right for his country and for the world.

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