Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos. Story, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Directed by Thomas Kail. Streaming on Disney+. 160 mins. PG-13 (U.S.)
(4 stars out of 4)
Default critical reflex is to knock play-to-film adaptations that seem too bound to their stage origins. This happens all the more so if the play has the broad popular appeal of a Broadway hit.
Yet "Hamilton" transcends any such objections — including spurious dismissals that it isn't a "real" film because it faithfully presents the original cast and minimalist setting of the play.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's dynamic account of U.S. revolutionary politics (“This is a story about America then, told by America now") boldly presents history in fresh hues and in a hurry, set to hip-hop, r'n'b and pop beats and told with a diverse and hugely talented cast.
Directed by Thomas Kail (who also helmed the stage show) and now streaming on Disney+, the film pulses with energy and life — and yes, this Revolution is genuinely cinematic, even if it is being televised. The look may seem simple, but don’t be fooled. Cinematographer Declan Quinn used nine cameras over three nights in 2016 at New York's Richard Rodgers Theater; much planning was required to attain a “you are there” feel without having the audience distract from the storytelling.
The Caribbean-born Hamilton, described in the show’s verse as the “ten-dollar founding father,” was far from a perfect politician or man, especially when viewed by 2020 standards.
But Manuel isn't blind to his title character's very human failings. In-between the on-stage rap battles and the off-stage war skirmishes there's a subplot involving Hamilton's love for his wife Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and his lust for her sister Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry).
They're among the many standouts of a terrific cast. Other highlights include Leslie Odom, Jr. as a mysteriously motivated Aaron Burr, Christopher Jackson as a determined and driven George Washington, Daveed Diggs a fleet-witted dualist as both Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette, and Jonathan Groff as an amusingly annoyed King George (his "You'll Be Back" taunt is the show’s comic highlight).