The best thing I’ve seen all week by far has been “Hamilton” on Disney Plus, which is a live taping of the 2016 broadway show Disney supposedly spent $75 million to secure. Was it worth it? Sure!
First and foremost, this will not be a review of “Hamilton” the broadway show. If you want that, there are thousands of other reviews saying exactly what I would’ve wrote. The show is excellent, a true American classic, expertly updating the legend of Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers (not the factual historical figures) into a form that is very palatable for contemporary culture.
I came into this “film” having only heard the soundtrack, and yes, the visuals add a lot to it. The production director Thomas Kail and cinematographer Declan Quinn taped had excellent production values, more than making up for the limitations of the medium with plenty of ensemble cast members who visually simulate various background motions such as canons firing, or Hamilton being “rowed across the Hudson”, which works extraordinarily well when paired with excellent sound design, and it also had an extraordinary use of lighting, which Kail and Quinn capture beautifully.
There are some differences between the live performance as seen in the film and the recorded soundtrack, though they more or less match up in spirit. Leslie Odom, Jr., who portrays former Vice President Aaron Burr, has a noticeable lisp in the live performance that is not detectable in the recording, but he uses it to his advantage, as his live portrayal of Burr is of someone who is a little socially awkward and isolated from the main “Hamilton” cast. And while the live version of the play often has the performers sing the songs at a much slower pace, you see nuance in their on-screen performances that is not possible through an audio recording.
Kail and Quinn’s production does the job to faithfully capture the play on film, but other than documentation, it does not fully utilize the medium of film, and their overall choices of shots and camera placement is a little uninspired. The film feels like more of a recording than a legitimate film, but that being said, that’s all I expected this to be.
I’ve seen criticisms on the film claiming the it allows you to see the actors’ makeup and sweat of the actors in an unflattering way, but you have to really look to see it. What small technical shortcoming the recording has, the quality of the play more than makes up for it. “Hamilton”‘s original broadway production is just so good that it is able to punch through the technical limitations of the film.
“Hamilton” (2020) is a really great time, and I can’t wait for the inevitable Disney-produced film adaptation. Here’s hoping it comes soon enough that the original broadway cast can reprise their roles.
“Hamilton” (2020) gets an 8/10