Directed by Thomas Kail
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Jonathan Groff
The real life of one of America’s foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Filmed live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theatre with the original Broadway cast.
So, not technically a movie or from 2020, Disney has decided to release a cinematic version of the Broadway cultural phenomenon Hamilton on their streaming service. And who can blame them; if you are going to own everything, you might as well also dip your fingers into what is being touted as the greatest musical ever made.
Most of you know the drill by now from the sheer popularity of Hamilton alone, but for those reading this review like me that came into this experience only knowing it had something to do with Broadway, America’s history, and hip-hop (which turns out to be a bizarre yet electrifying combination), it’s worth pointing out that the songs are written by lyrical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda (who has recently participated in quite a few other Disney projects) and inspired by Ron Chernow’s biographical book studying founding father Alexander Hamilton. Meanwhile, Thomas Kail has taken the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway of 2016 performance of the musical and repurposed it, giving audiences a front-row seat with energetic camera cuts matching the kinetics of the talent on stage. Not to mention, the more powerful passages are given close-ups of facial expressions further adding to the palpable power the narrative packs.
It’s not the first time Broadway has been altered into a cinematic movie (it’s not even the first time Disney has done such a thing), but Hamilton will probably go down as one of the best of its kind. From the start, the song and dance numbers (always equipped with stunning choreography, spinning sets, and first-rate costume design) explode onto the screen as an anachronistic collection of songs that both honors history and re-contextualizes not only Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda also portrays the scrappy and pioneering founding father), but America itself. The founding fathers themselves are all portrayed by people of color, which simply feels fine, considering the strength of the lyrics and relentlessly upbeat tunes absorb the mind with excitement and information. Sure, there might be a few historical inaccuracies, but one would be hard-pressed to imagine a future where Hamilton is not a part of school curriculums; make learning fun and students will most likely listen.
The story is not just one of history, honing in on Hamilton‘s disagreements with those around him (Leslie Odom Jr. plays his biggest rival Aaron Burr with a dash of everything from friendship to jealousy to menacing bitterness, also functioning as the narrator), his complex love life (there is everything from selfless acts of love to adultery and love triangles), and the pursuit of legacy alongside showcasing the consequences and what it takes to become immortal in the history books. The personal life adds to the political bickering (which at times is creatively done with what resembles light rap battles), building to a second-half that is nothing short of breathlessly tense and compelling.
Some of the songs are just straight-up affecting, demonstrating that there is a reason millions of people around the globe will throw on the songs without context. At one point, Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo) sings a moving and beautiful song while burning up a series of letters. As a writer, however, it’s just one example of the lyrics taking on new meanings and piercing a personal place, as I suspect many of the songs have done for others. “My Shot” perfectly encapsulates the American dream and should become a rallying cry for anyone with ambition. “The Room Where It Happens” is both undeniably catchy and a cautionary peek at envy. Of course, all of these numbers and plot points build to a thrilling bittersweet finale.
It’s also a disservice to sum Hamilton up as a rap musical, as the Broadway play encompasses other genres including R&B, ballads, and more with shifting tones. Each of the performers even has a distinct singing style, with Daveed Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson sticking out as cocky and smoldering. The variety is certainly a key component in making the nearly three-hour running time fly by.
There is also a conversation to be had that Broadway plays probably should continue to adapt to modernized music and storytelling if they ever want to regain mainstream appeal. It’s the very thought process that Lin-Manuel Miranda appears to have come into Hamilton with, succeeding at crafting something with far-reaching popularity that is also revolutionary. I’m unfamiliar with most Broadway plays, but that didn’t stop me from being transfixed by what I was seeing here. Hamilton is something everyone should take a shot at watching, whether it be performed live or this remarkable live cinematic treatment. Be prepared in advance to be scrambling through the entire soundtrack afterward unable to settle on a song to listen to.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com