November 9, 2017 6:35 AM EST

Who ever thought we’d be nostalgic for a President who had a fondness for barking orders to aides from the john? Rob Reiner’s LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson, is Lyndon B. Johnson 101, roughly covering the period from the 36th President’s swearing-in ceremony following the JFK assassination to his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The picture’s narrowed scope is a plus, giving Harrelson room to shine. He’s somewhat hampered by doughy prosthetics–why not just let a good actor sink into a character, minus the distracting makeup?–but Harrelson gets the posture, the crabby, loping drawl and the overall get-it-done energy of LBJ just right. Johnson could be coarse and ill-mannered, but his political acumen and innate decency changed the country for the better. His crassness was also a kind of grace, a contradiction that Harrelson conveys beautifully, with a scowl that sometimes hides a smile–or the other way around.


This appears in the November 20, 2017 issue of TIME.

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