Film Review: All the Way

5/5

It is rare that a recent film documenting monumental events in history is as good as HBO’s All the Way. While we had Selma and 12 Years a Slave, some of Hollywood’s historical outputs are a total flop. 2016’s Jackie documenting the life of Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of JFK was dull and plain and made me wonder if these films had reached their sell-by date.

They haven’t.

All the Way was destined to be brilliant. Steven Spielberg directed and Bryan Cranston starred as President Lyndon B Johnson, also known as ‘LBJ’, the figure the film is centred around. Released in 2016 and virtually unheard of by many, this HBO film is genuinely one of the best and most accurate I have seen for a very long time.

Chronicling the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 in America when LBJ assumed the office of President following JFK’s death, All the Way does the almost impossible: bringing a larger than life figure of history to life on the screen.

Lyndon Johnson is renowned for his huge personality, spanning rage, love, passion and domination, and is no mean feat to characterise in a film. Cranston does a stellar job of bringing LBJ’s character to life. He makes you laugh, he makes you cry and he gives you shivers. Johnson’s humour is just as crass (and hilarious) as it has been reported and his unusual habit to conduct important discussions on the toilet is also portrayed.

It must also be said that Melissa Leo, playing Johnson’s wife Lady Bird, is fantastic in the film. Although Bird is made out to be perhaps a little weaker than she was in real life, Leo is exactly how one would imagine the formidable and saintly patient wife of LBJ to be. She is shown to care for Johnson in the way the history books tell us and she is involved in his politics in a way that some First Ladies never were.

All the Way should also be praised for its historical accuracy. This is largely down to the writer Robert Schenkkan who is able to capture the essence of characters like LBJ in words, as well as Martin Luther King (Anthony Mackie), but also the amendments to the Civil Rights Act and the events at the Democratic National Convention. Johnson is known to have crafted every sentence he ever spoke to achieve results in the House and the Senate but did so incredibly subtly and delicately meaning that characterising this on screen is no mean feat.

Overall, All the Way is an absolute must-watch for anyone interested in civil rights, American history and politics as well as President Lyndon Johnson. Each character is mastered by those who play them and the script is so well done it outshines some of the best recently released historical films.