Obviously, nothing could take the place of seeing the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton performed live and in person. But for those of us who have never had the chance, the film version premiering on Disney+ is far from being a “second best” option. Great care has gone into replicating the feel of the Broadway phenomenon, while also taking advantage of assets only cinema can offer (closeups, tracking shots, etc.). Going in, my hope as a Hamilton newcomer was for the movie to make me feel as though I was sitting in the audience of the Richard Rodgers Theater. It went one better, delivering an immersive experience that made me feel like I was sitting on the stage, with everything unfolding around me.
I'm not going to review the show itself. Of course, it's enthralling. Even people who haven't seen it know how inventive it is in using rap/hip-hop music and actors of color to tell a story about Alexander Hamilton and his wide-ranging impact as one of our nation's Founding Fathers. Every word of praise heaped upon the production is richly deserved. What's vital to know is the performance was filmed in 2016 with the original Broadway cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr, and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton. In other words, the magnificent actors who made the show what it is.
Director Thomas Kail knows right where to put the camera. During big musical numbers, it tends to stay back, as if sitting right on the edge of the stage. That allows viewers to take in the complex choreography, as well as the way members of the ensemble add or remove objects to modify the look of the set. In more personal sections, he brings the camera closer, so we can register the emotions of the characters in greater detail than would be possible sitting in the audience, particularly if you're stuck in the back. This is especially potent during the scenes between Alexander, Eliza, and her sister Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry).
You won't find a lot of unnecessary flashy editing or anything too showy. Kail and Miranda (who produced the film) obviously know that tinkering with the magic of Hamilton would be disastrous. Instead, the intention was to take the stage show and present it in a cinematic format. Whereas in a theater you'd be sitting in a fixed location and staring at the totality of the stage, the presence of a camera allows you to hone in at strategic times. You may lose the rush of seeing live actors performing in front of your face, but the feeling is made up for by the creation of intimacy that a theater setting simply wouldn't allow.
The only time the effect is broken is during a small handful (like three or four shots) taken from the back of the stage looking out toward the audience, or from overhead. Those shots do distract a bit because they show vantage points you wouldn't naturally have access to. A sensation of being among the actors is lost for a few seconds.
No logical person should quibble too much about such a minuscule thing. The performances, the songs, the production design, and the story all combine to create a show that people have fallen passionately in love with. Hamilton truly is a groundbreaking work. If you've never seen it, or want to see it again, the movie captures the qualities that make it special, while adding a wonderful flavor of its own.
out of four
Hamilton is rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes.