"Hamilton" (2020)- Movie Review

Directed by Thomas Kail
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Jonathan Groff

‘A Must-See Musical’

Broadway musicals are rarely ever recorded live on film. It is not easy to capture a live recording of a beloved stage musical. It’s a challenging task that requires filmmakers to recreate the original stage performance. Broadway musicals are, by definition, the polar opposite of movies. Due to notable differences between the two mediums, stage musicals are not often recorded into movies. To put it simply, what works on stage doesn’t always work on film. After all, nothing can quite emulate the experience of a live theatrical performance. For these reasons, it is rare to come across effective filmed versions of theater plays.

In this regard, Thomas Kail’s latest film “Hamilton” is a breathtaking achievement. A joyous, heartfelt and rousing live recording of the stage musical, it offers viewers the rare chance to experience the show onscreen. With his first feature, director Thomas Kail has crafted an astonishing rendition of the beloved Broadway production. Packed with captivating cinematography, showstopping musical sequences and powerful performances, it is a highly effective filmed musical. Although “Hamilton” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. At nearly three hours, it suffers from a lengthy running-time that tests the viewer’s patience. Nonetheless, it offers exhilarating entertainment that will satisfy fans of the original play.

Set in 18th Century United States, “Hamilton” chronicles the life of America’s founding father and his journey to become a revolutionist. Lin-Manuel Miranda stars in the titular role as Alexander Hamilton, an orphaned immigrant that is driven by ambition. Hamilton’s lifelong goal is to become a revolutionist, but his status as an outsider hinders his dreams. However, Hamilton’s life forever changes when he is appointed as first secretary of the U.S. treasury. As Hamilton rises to power, he soon becomes determined to fight for his country.

It’s a rehearsed theatrical performance that is expertly crafted by director Thomas Kail. Kail is an award-winning theater director that is best known for staging Broadway productions. “Hamilton”, however, marks his first theatrical feature and foray into the live recording of stage musicals. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to capture a live-theater performance of the beloved stage musical, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Kail draws viewers into the whimsical world of an American revolutionist. From tight close-ups to spellbinding steadicam shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s setting. Working alongside cinematographer Declan Quinn, Kail creates a stunning film in which each frame is an opulent feast for the eyes. Kail excels at immersing viewers into the theater performance, and his latest feature is worth watching on Disney+ for this reason alone.

If stage performances do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Hamilton”. The film is extremely well-made, and features the most exquisite production values that you’ll ever see in a filmed musical. The sets, costumes, and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an immersive theatrical experience. Kail proves to be an expert at choosing the costumes for his debut feature. Assisted by costume-designer Paul Tazewell, Kail creates lavish costumes that bring out the personalities of characters. For instance, Alexander Hamilton’s extensive range of clothes illustrate his transformation from an impoverished immigrant into an aristocratic statesman. Moreover, the musical score is also worth mentioning. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s R&B score is highly effective. It gives the film a joyous and upbeat atmosphere that is reminiscent of classic golden-age musicals. Through awe-inspiring production values, Kail keeps viewers engrossed in the world of Alexander Hamilton.

Another admirable aspect of “Hamilton” that merits applause is its musical sequences. The musical sequences are impeccably staged, and arguably the main highlight of the movie. From the heartbreaking “Satisfied” to the toe-tapping “The Room Where it Happens”, the film features marvelous musical set-pieces that are sure to satisfy fans of the play. Kail’s decision to shoot the musical sequences at a close distance is risky, but it works tremendously. It lends a palpable sense of intimacy and realism to the film that is missing from the original Broadway production. In most live-theater plays, the audience is always kept at a considerable distance from performers. This often keeps the audience from becoming fully invested in the show. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “Hamilton”. By shooting the performers from close-up, Kail captures the emotions of characters in a way that the original play did not. Kail effectively employs intimate camerawork to keep viewers emotionally engaged. Through splendid musical sequences, Kail keeps viewers invested in the life of an American revolutionist.

It is hard to not marvel at the magnificent performances from the cast. In an exceptional ensemble, every star gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression.

Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers his finest performance to date as Alexander Hamilton. Following his rise to fame on Broadway, Miranda has proven to be a multi-talented thespian with an aptitude for performing on stage. With “Hamilton”, he reprises his iconic role for the first time on film. It is not easy to transition from live-theater to film. However, Miranda pulls it off effortlessly. It’s a role that allows the actor to showcase his charismatic stage presence and commanding voice as a hip-hop artist. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys the ambition, courage and nobility of America’s founding father. It’s a powerful performance from one of the most versatile actors working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Leslie Odom Jr. is outstanding and brings palpable tension to the movie as Hamilton’s treacherous rival Aaron Burr. Renée Elise Goldsberry is remarkable and sweeps away your heart as Hamilton’s secretive lover Angelica. And finally, it is hard to not mention Jonathan Groff. As the devilish King George III, he brings hilarious comical relief and persona to the movie.

Although “Hamilton” is undeniably a marvelous stage musical, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a lengthy running-time. Accompanied by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s energetic score, Kail keeps the film moving at an engaging pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its final act, it starts to lose momentum and test the viewer’s patience. Kail’s decision to keep the film the same length as the original Broadway production is bold and ambitious, but it doesn’t entirely work. It hinders the pacing and detracts from the entertainment-value of the movie. While the three-hour running-time is fairly reasonable for a live-theater play, it is slightly overlong for a feature-length film. The result is a movie that feels like a never-ending roller-coaster ride. It leaves viewers entertained but at the same time exhausted.

Nevertheless, fans of the beloved musical will definitely enjoy “Hamilton” and so will movie-goers seeking exhilarating entertainment. A fantastic piece of filmmaking, it offers viewers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness live-theater onscreen. At a time when the reopening of Broadway remains shrouded in uncertainty, don’t throw away your shot to experience the famous stage performance live on the big-screen.

4/5 stars

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