Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Anthony Ramos, Christopher Jackson, Okieriete Onaodowan, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Jonathan Groff, Sydney James Harcourt
Written by: Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on a book by Ron Chernow
Directed by: Thomas Kail
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material
Running Time: 160
Date: 07/03/2020

Hamilton (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Look Around

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Certainly one of the highlights of this nightmare of a year, the movie version of the Tony-winning Broadway sensation Hamilton is everything anyone could have hoped for, cinematic, exuberant, and dazzling. Though it deserved a big screen release, people who are stuck inside due to the COVID-19 outbreak will thoroughly enjoy it on Disney+. Directed by Thomas Kail, Hamilton is not an "opened-up" movie version of the play, but rather a record of the play, filmed in 2016. It incorporates elements from two performances in front of an audience, plus various, close-ups and tracking/crane shots that were filmed separately. It reminded me of such expert concert films as Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense and Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz. What could have been static and dull magically springs to whirlwind life.

Hamilton also offers the chance for viewers to witness the original cast in their prime, including scene-stealer Daveed Diggs in his dual role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, and Leslie Odom Jr., who steals the entire show as Aaron Burr (both won Tonys). Even though Lin-Manuel Miranda lost the Best Leading Actor award to Odom, close-ups reveal that his performance as Alexander Hamilton is every bit as nuanced. The rest of the cast includes Tony-winner Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Phillipa Soo as Eliza, Jonathan Groff as King George III (another scene-stealer with his "da-da-da-da-DA" refrain), Anthony Ramos in another dual role as John Laurens and Alexander's son Philip, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Okieriete Onaodowan as both Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds. There are no weak links here.

Manuel-Miranda's script, music, and lyrics — based on a biography by Ron Chernow — are nothing short of genius, mixing hip-hop (with a flow worthy of Tupac Shakur), pop, and soul. At least a half-dozen songs will get stuck in your head, and home viewers will surely find themselves tapping their feet along with the beat. The whole concept of re-telling the story of the birth of America with an entirely Black-and-brown cast is a proudly subversive act, but done without any venom. It's both a hopeful, delightfully revisionist story, and a reminder that, indeed, there would be no America without the work of so many Black and brown people. The end result — even though the show will absolutely shatter your soul and make you cry before the final curtain — is utter joy.

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