A solid period piece. All the Way is an HBO Original Movie, and one that takes a look at the unexpected presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston). Specifically, we get to see the year he was in office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy up to his re-election, and also the Civil Rights Act he fought to get passed along side Martin Luther King Jr. (Anthony Mackie). This was on my radar because it is based on a stage play of the same name that is currently making its rounds on and off Broadway. Cranston has already played this role before onstage, and being the acting heavyweight that he is, it makes total sense to get him to reprise his role for the movie. I liked most of the choices they made here, although it does ultimately feel like something that is destined to be shown in high school social study classes.
It’s a movie that you watch for the performances and for the history lesson.
Bryan Cranston is an immensely talented actor, and he puts in work to bring LBJ to life; all of the legwork and small touches to the right details are present throughout. You really feel like you get to know the man behind the presidency, as there are plenty of moments when he is not being televised and speaking more candidly. He’s just this Southern gentleman, not afraid to tell you exactly what’s on his mind, and not afraid to make it more colorful with a mildly inappropriate analogy or two. He bursts out with stories from experience, sort of like Daniel Day Lewis does in Lincoln, but way less sleep inducing. He is great, but who really stole the show for me was Anthony Mackie as MLK. I’ve seen him so much in Marvel movies and just in general that I thought I was going to have difficulty seeing past the actor, but it was really the opposite. He may not be on the same level as David Oyelowo in Selma, but he’s not too far off, and he had my attention every time he appeared onscreen.
It was far more than what I was expecting from him, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Now I did like this, but I never really developed an emotional connection with it. It seems like a civics lesson more than anything, and it isn’t aided by the fact that you already know how this is going to turn out. On an unrelated note, I think it was an odd choice to film this on digital rather than on film; just given the time that this takes place in, it was a bit jarring for me, personally, but if you don’t watch as many movies as I do, this may not bother you. The leads in this are great and the reason why you watch this, and Melissa Leo transforms herself as Lady Bird, a role that is sure to be overlooked simply because it is so small. It moves fast enough, and if you’re interested in the subject matter, I would recommend it.
All the Way (2016) ***1/2
– Critic for Hire