It used to be that seeing Hamilton was the great social humble brag point. Then it became seeing Hamilton with the original crew being a badge of honor status symbol. Now after a mega successful run, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece is available for all to see in a movie version.
If anything seemed destined to collapse under the burden of its mammoth hype it’s Hamilton. As a Hamilton virgin, I was bracing for the possibility that the massive buildup wasn’t going to be justified. It really couldn’t be as special, mesmerizing and captivating as everyone made it out to be, right? Turns out it surpasses the hype and becomes the movie event of 2020 you can just sit back and enjoy at home.
There’s a magic in being in the midst of a live performance or a sporting event that can’t be replicated by watching at home. Still, the filmed presentation has an advantage in providing the best perspective for the various moments whether with tight close ups, overhead shots and natural editing that directs viewers’ attention to the important parts. That’s likely even truer for Hamilton as Director Thomas Kail (Grease Live!) gives every viewer the best seat in the house and gives the proper focus for the cast’s performances.
For the two people left who don’t know the premise of the play, it’s a take on Ron Chernow’s 2004 Alexander Hamilton book exploring the life of one of the founding fathers in a very contemporary way. From its almost entirely minority cast to the infusion of hip-hop, pop, R&B and show tunes, it’s obvious its departure from the norm made Hamilton such a phenomenon.
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Hamilton (Miranda) has lofty ambitions and embodies the mantra that the world is not enough. He wants a legacy that lasts long after he’s gone and quickly finds himself in a position to make his mark.
Along the way, Hamilton makes a frenemy in Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), a staunch ally in George Washington (Christopher Jackson) and other future founding fathers. During the Revolutionary War, he gets married to the loving Eliza (Phillipa Soo) while carrying on a somewhat unhealthy close bond with her older sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldberry).
Filmed in 2016, this is one of the final performances of the fully assembled original cast. Considering they’ve done their roles hundreds of times it’s not shocking the high level of their performances or the amazing quality of their singing, rapping and tight choreography.
Miranda isn’t a selfish writer and while the play is named after his character, he cedes the spotlight throughout to spread the attention to the rest of the main cast. Few benefit from this selfless approach more than Odom, who is practically the co-lead and Daveed Diggs, who provides so much energy and spark in the second act as Thomas Jefferson. Odom does an outstanding job of making Burr a well-rounded character with ambitions yet stuck comparing his accomplishments to Hamilton.
My one tiny gripe is it would have been nice for some cast members not to have to double dip and play multiple roles. This isn’t a huge deal as the cast are able to make their dual roles different enough, but it gets tricky when Anthony Ramos goes from playing one of Hamilton’s close drinking buddies to his 9-year-old son and Jasmine Cephas Jones plays both Hamilton’s sister-in-law and mistress.
Overall the first act has more energetic and catchy songs, but the second act arguably has the best one-two punch with The Reynolds Pamphlet and Burn. And It’s Quiet Uptown is easily the film’s most emotional “I’m not crying, you’re crying” scene. It’s a toss up who has a better voice between Goldberry, Soo and Odom Jr., but it makes for a great debate.
There’s some very creative approaches to flashbacks and alternate perspectives that are incredibly well done. And the rap battle debates are another terrific highlight.
We’ve seen some excellent film translations of acclaimed plays from the 2012 Les Misérables to the not so great — did anyone actually see last year’s Cats? It’d be interesting to see if Miranda will ever feel the need to make a film version beyond the stage production. And even if he were so compelled a bigger question is how it could a movie interpretation top this version?
I’m not saying anything new here, but Hamilton shoots to the top of the best films of 2020 list. With a limited amount of potential challengers in the second half of the year it seems like it’ll be a winner by a landslide.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Disney+