Debuting on HBO on May 21, the Jay Roach-directed All The Way is eminently timely television and intentionally so, as President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. form an unlikely partnership and weave a masterful strategy of procedural power and patronage to achieve their mutual goal of greater civil rights for African Americans. Certainly, as I say in my video review above, an America tearing itself apart over race, justice, anger and opportunity in a polarizing election year should be a pretty familiar backdrop to a 2016 audience, and a reminder of both how far and not so far we have come since 1964.
Adapted for the small screen by Robert Schenkkan from his Tony-winning play, the performances delivered by Bryan Cranston and Anthony Mackie in the two-hour-plus pic are towering and skillful. Reprising his Tony-wining role from the stage version for another high in a career of surprises and surges, the Breaking Bad alum has adroitly captured the morality and muscle of the complexities, insecurities, vulgarities and sometimes nearly overwhelming political talents of the 36th POTUS. Correspondingly, while Mackie may soon be flying high as the Falcon in the Captain America: Civil War, he soars here too depicting the man within the icon in one of MLK’s many defining moments.
Yes, along with a strong supporting cast featuring Frank Langella as segregationist Sen. Richard Russell, Bradley Whitford as future VP Hubert Humphrey, Joe Morton as NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, and an underutilized Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson, there are some broad strokes in All The Way. However, as any reader of Robert Caro’s ongoing multi-volume biography of LBJ will recognize, a lot of them are pure LBJ himself. Centering on the year between LBJ being lifted up to Presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his landslide 1964 win, All The Way knows exactly what LBJ and MLK it wants to depict. The fact is history, like W.H. Auden’s poetry, is a constantly re-written endeavor. For all the resurgence LBJ’s legislative legacy and political abilities have seen in recent years (compared to our current endless gridlock in Washington), the Texan and his Great Society essentially started to run out of gas by the 1966 midterm elections. That’s when the Republicans saw a big Congressional comeback and a lot of Johnson’s remaining focus and time in office tragically shifted to the Vietnam War, which also looms in this TV movie.
That’s context, but for sheer content, All The Way goes full on, and that’s TV you can take to the bank. So click on my video review and tell us what you think.
This review originally ran on May 5.
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