- Movie Rating -

Hamilton (2020)

| July 3, 2020

There is probably no irony to the fact that Hamilton is dropping onto Disney+ just in time for America’s birthday, but it might get you in the spirit in ways that you’re not even counting on.  Every inch of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s smash Broadway hit has a subtext that you’d have to have been dead 200 years to miss.  What Disney probably didn’t count on when scheduling this live edition was that the world would  change in ways that would make this production eerily relevant.

At a moment when statues are being torn down and every bleeding vein of history is being opened and bled for their racist implications, this four-year old production comes to us with a rather clever twist.  For one thing, it features the original cast of mostly African-American, Latinx and Asian actors in the roles of the founding fathers – white men whom history records all but founded the country on the privileged side of a clearly defined color line. 

In this, the story of the early days of our republic slyly and not-so-casually allows these actors to tell the story of the founding of America through a “what-if” scenario that isn’t spelled out, but is obvious at every single moment.  What is screaming from the populace today is the information the founding of this country came at the expense (and on the backs) of people of color. So, when Aaron Burr (played by a black actor, Leslie Odom Jr.) sings the showstopper “I Wanna Be in the Room,” you don’t have to stretch to find a connection.

Actually, this approach is kind of refreshing.  The music feels fresh, borrowing elements from jazz and R&B and gospel and heaping helpings of hip hop.  The songs are the reason that the show works so well, I think.  The entire thing is sung and Manuel-Miranda does a brilliant job of cramming the first 20 years of Hamilton’s life into just a couple of songs.  He proves to be a master of lyrical shorthand, often using rap to cover a lot of ground.  This soundtrack never feels like it is trying to ride the back of other popular musicals or to cash in on “what the kids like these days.”  It is original, and engaging in a way that your only disappointment seeing it for the first time is that you don’t know the words and can’t sing along.  You’ll catch up. 

Another great element is the feeling of live theater.  I hope that this is never turned into a narrative feature film because I think it needs the space of live theater to be able to breathe – a cinematic treatment would make it seem too stuffy.  The debate between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), which is performed as an energetic rap battle, would seem clunky in a cinematic setting.  It needs the spontaneity of the theater.

This was my first encounter with Hamilton and what is present in this performance that one cannot get from a live show is the intimacy, the close-ups, the tender moments of being by the character’s sides as they go through the triumph and tragedy of trying to build a nation – a practice that the story illustrates was done with a lot of backstabbing, double-dealing and broken friendships.  And again, the diversity of he cast spins this story in a different direction.  It’s the same stuff you learned in high school but the vantage point turns the story into something deeper and more meaningful.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2016) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized