Friday, July 3, 2020

Hamilton: Movie Review

A work of art.
Hamilton is finally available for the masses. And even though it is just a taping of a stage musical, it doesn’t feel like an event that I missed out on (but of course it was; the last four or so years of pop culture discussion made sure of that, but not any more). This is a cinematic wonder where we have the best seats in the house for, especially since the multi-camera taping allowed for multiple angles which we wouldn’t get otherwise. 2020

Directed by: Thomas Kail

Screenplay by: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr.

I recommend a quick history refresher before pressing play, because sometimes I found myself so caught up on the wondrous of it all that I would forget where we were in the grand scheme of the story of the founding the United States. Because there is a lot to take in. The play is constantly moving for the full 2 hours and 40 minutes (including a way too brief 1 minute intermission), characters come in and out of Alexander Hamilton’s life, some like Aaron Burr stick around for the entirety of it, others are relegated to 1 or 2 song appearances. Oh, and every song transitions right into the next one (I’m not well versed in musical theater so I’m grouping together songs and sung dialogue), and there are only approximately a half dozen 5-second pauses as set pieces change. No rest for the wicked.

Daveed Diggs is Thomas Jefferson in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

As many have commented on, Lin Manuel-Miranda as Alexander Hamilton is the weakest performer. And I don’t mean that as an insult at all. It’s a testament to how crazy good the writing is and how talented the rest of the performers are, that a weaker lead does not detract at all. There’s one performance that has to be singled out above all others, and if you have read anything about Hamilton, you already know what’s coming next: Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson is the greatest character introduction you will see this year, and probably the decade if not the century. He electrifies the stage/screen as soon as Jefferson makes his return from England and continues to electrify as he ascends to the presidency.

Leslie Odom Jr plays Aaron Burr and provides much needed stability throughout the musical as the second main character. He’s a character who wants to be louder than he is and Odom Jr lends admirable restraint to a guy that could be easily painted as the villain. On the other hand, Chris Jackson is even more restrained as hero George Washington. He plays off Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton so well and commands the stage when he speaks. And then enters Jonathan Groff as mad King George III, who’s mostly comic relief, but also helps with recognizable touchpoints to history.

For a play that could be a history lesson or a simplified telling of singular life in history, it’s neither. Hamilton’s hardly a hero, and the songs combine multiple years and presents events out of order and glossing over others all together just to keep the entertainment quotient up. And it works, the songs are such a huge highlight that it’s hard not to be in awe of how this was written.

When I was in elementary school, our class went on a field trip to see a performance of The Nutcracker. I remember everything about that day very clearly decades later because I saw it as a combining of multiple talents. Hamilton is even more so, adding in history to acting, writing, singing, choreography, production design, stage movement, camera movement. The talent on display is mesmerizing. Disney got it right. Hamilton needs to be seen by everybody and not just the rich.