It admittedly took me a long time to decide whether or not I was going to talk about Hamilton on this website. Mostly because I wasn’t sure if it truly counted as a feature film—it’s just a recording of the stage show after all, right? I eventually came upon this decision for a few reasons. One, by this point I’ve seen more than a few professional critics I strongly respect review it on their websites. It also helps that apparently Disney is planning on doing a For Your Consideration campaign to receive Oscar nominations for it. It’s got title cards and credits after all, so it seems that Disney is marketing it as a film in and of itself. But the biggest, most important reason why I decided to review it is because half a week after watching it, I still absolutely can’t stop thinking about it. I think that’s a sign.
Now, if you know me in real life, you also presumably know that I’ve spent the better part of the last five years absolutely obsessed with Hamilton, for reasons I’ll of course discuss later on in this review. Mostly because I very much enjoy the Broadway Cast Recording, which was essentially my only access to the musical seeing as tickets were inordinately expensive for the longest time. Now, though I do enjoy the Broadway Cast Recording, I’m inclined to say that out of context there were some songs that I grew colder on as the years went by. “The Schuyler Sisters” rarely grabbed me by this point, and “The Adams Administration” was a tad too irreverent as far into the soundtrack as it is.
And so it brings me great pleasure to say that the soundtrack, though amazing, doesn’t even hold a candle to the feature film that surrounds it. The soundtrack is good, but I didn’t know how much I was missing until I actually sat down and experienced the real thing for myself, putting each song even further into context that really does add so much. But it’s not just that the film fixes the problems (however few) I have with the soundtrack, it’s also that the great moments are only heightened. One of the best songs on the soundtrack based on popular opinion is “Satisfied,” Angelica Schuyler’s (Renee Elise Goldsberry) big number in act one. I would say I’ve always appreciated it, but I didn’t know how much I appreciated it until I watched her, full of emotions, belting it out on the stage. It’s just glorious.
And that’s another thing. Every actor in this film does a phenomenal job, which is of course not that odd seeing as they’re all iconic in terms of their talent, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. As one could assume, Goldsberry absolutely steals the show, but apart from that everyone does an equally fantastic job, from the sinister Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr to the perfectly annoying Thomas Jefferson as portrayed by Daveed Diggs, with both of which winning the Tony in their respective fields. Every person is at a ten, down to the clear-as-day saliva on Jonathan Groff’s chin and the sweat on everyone’s forehead. Every single person, be it in the cast or crew, be they main actors or background dancers, put their all into this film, and it really shows.
Of course, praise should also go to whoever shot and edited this film. I’ve heard from some Broadway fanatics that the editor shies away from some background dancing, and that’s perhaps true—maybe I’ll have to see this live when theaters open back up or else when Hamilton tickets are finally made less expensive—but as someone coming into the film mostly clean, I didn’t miss much. Not only did I not miss it, in fact, I think the dancing is shot extremely well. I’m notoriously hard on Broadway shows being turned into films partly because of their tendency to put in too few interesting ideas into the cinematography department or too many, but Hamilton has the exact right balance, though it certainly helps that it’s virtually the real thing.
But even if Hamilton weren’t good, if it wasn’t perfectly performed and if it didn’t look beautiful, shying away from big set pieces and towards encouraging the audience’s imagination through abstract art, it would still just be damn impressive. For those who don’t know the story behind Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has made a household name out of himself throughout the last two decades, wrote Hamilton in its entirety, be it the music, the lyrics, the book, everything. He put his heart and soul into making this genius little project, fitting so many words into considerably few songs while also being almost entirely accurate…that doesn’t just make you talented, at some point you have to wonder if you’re some kind of genius, whether or not you’ve trained to gain talent.
There is one other thing that Hamilton has gotten criticism for over the years, and that’s how it talks about the founding fathers. People claim that the show glorified them, though I would strongly disagree on that notion. If the musical were glorifying Alexander Hamilton, they wouldn’t have had him be a relatively slimy sinner. If they were glorifying America, they wouldn’t have introduced an overly obnoxious (though that’s the point) Thomas Jefferson as the face of the country and its morals. Miranda knew what he was doing from the start, but he’s also not condemning the country as a whole. He alluded to it occasionally, but also Hamilton is more about the idealistic people the founding fathers actually were. He doesn’t glorify them, for the most part he shows them as they actually were. Not much beyond that, it’s just an amazing, creative and genius piece of art. My favorite movie of the year so far, even if it technically doesn’t count.
Hamilton can be streamed on Disney Plus.
It is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material.