“All the Way” (HBO)
Directed by Jay Roach
Dear SAG Nominating Committee, When it comes time to put forward your choices for the voting body at large, please look at pieces of craft like Jay Roach’s sensational “All the Way”, instead of the drek you chose last year. Comparing 2016 nominee, “The Alamo” to this film is like comparing Ulysses S. Grant in a post-Lincoln nation, to LBJ in a post-JFK nation. It doesn’t quite add up.
From the opening scene in the hospital awaiting news on the health of JFK, to the moment LBJ is re-elected, “All the Way” is a magnificent study in the machinations of what might have been most tumultuous time in our country, other than during the Civil War. But, I assure you, this never feels like a history lesson. And doesn’t drag for a moment. Each step of the way, the script and performances feel remarkably naturalistic and sincere, even if they paint ALL of the historical figures in a less than iconic light.
What I found most interesting is that, in the same run-time (2:15), this film fills in so much more of the angst, anger, give and take, racism, class-ism, and stake of what went in to the adoption of the Civil Rights Act (without the Voting Rights Act) than “Selma” does…with more accuracy, more drama, and more drive. Where “Selma” went out of its way to paint LBJ in a poor light, at the expense of the film (for me anyway), “All the Way” gets out of its own way and lets the actual words of LBJ paint that same fallible, and often disgusting portrait…but this time, without the editorializing. You FEEL the anger, frustration and outrage of King and the MFDP in a much more visceral way. In effect, this is the film I hoped “Selma” would have been. (I am aware I am sitting on an island when it comes to my dislike for “Selma” – so take all this as you will.)
Jay Roach, who made the wonderful Cranston-vehicle, “Trumbo”, has once again successfully created an ultra-convincing time and place and imbued it with the saturated palette of stress, fear, mourning and possibility of 1964. No scene is wasted, glossy or even expository. It all matters…and it’s all riveting.
The acting in this film, with very few exceptions, is incredible and filled with oceans of emotional depth. Cranston has already locked up the Emmy and Golden Globe with this performance, and the SAG, for that matter. Reprising the role he created on Broadway, his LBJ is folksy, paranoid, blistering and loveable. As Ladybird, Melissa Leo matches him at almost every turn. Special mention to Todd Weeks, who, as LBJ’s right-hand man, Walter Jenkins, is the conduit to some of the warmer and more vulnerable sides of LBJ. And, finally, Anthony Mackie’s Martin Luther King, Jr. is sensational. Restrained, but passionate, flawed but strong and, more than anything, a master juggler of disparate points of view within his own camp.
James Newton Howard’s score is excellent, if not something I would listen to on its own. And, most importantly, I am pleased to say his music never tries to make scenes more “important”…the scene-work does that just fine by itself.
It’s summer repeat season and, while there are still plenty of shows to watch this time of year (“Game of Thrones”, “Silicon Valley”), and others starting again soon (“Mr. Robot”, “Ray Donovan”), “All the Way” is WELL worth a couple hours of your couch time investment. Can’t recommend it highly enough.