Thursday, May 26, 2016

Part Of The Way

I just watched HBO's TV film All The Way. Starring Bryan Cranston and directed by Jay Roach, it's about LBJ with an emphasis on his work in civil rights.  The script is by Robert Schenkkan, based on his Broadway play that already won a Tony Award for him and Cranston. (A Tony is nice, but Schenkkan had already won the even more prestigious Pulitzer Prize for The Kentucky Cycle in 1992.)

Lyndon Johnson had a long, colorful political career before he was President, but there's no time for that in this two-hour+ movie--it starts with him taking office after JFK was assassinated.  The big story is how will he pass civil rights laws with the southern wing of his own party deadset against it, and ready to filibuster.  As you'd expect--in fact, as you know--he does a lot of arm-twisting and a little horse trading to get things done.

There's a solid supporting cast, with Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, Jr., Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover*, Melissa Leo as Ladybird Johnson and Frank Langella as Senator Russell, to name just a few.  But really this is Cranston's show.  He's been having a good time lately.  After winning a bunch of Emmys for Breaking Bad, he's been nominated for an Oscar for Trumbo, and won a Tony for this role and will likely win another Emmy for it.  He's quite convincing (more than he was as Dalton Trumbo, I'd say)--he doesn't just capture Johnson's spirit, he actually looks and sounds like him.  Unfortunately, the others characters too often seem to be there just for him to play off, rather than living on their own.

The film does a decent job bringing the era to life, but like so many looks back, there's a built-in problem. First, of course, we know how things will turn out, and many of us have a pretty good idea how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it through Congress.  Also, we know who the good guys are, looked at through the lens of the modern political consensus.  The show, by its very nature, has to be a bit simplistic, but the "good guys" can sometimes be a bit bloodless. And LBJ, even if this is meant to be a warts-and-all portrait, doesn't have to show too many warts, or has his warts forgiven because his hearts in the right place.

So a thumbs up more than down, but really, it'd be better to read about it if you want to find out what happened.

*Hoover is one of the few guys in the show who's unequivocally evil.  It's ironic, since if you took a poll in America in the early 1960s asking who's the most noble, wonderful human being who ever lived, Hoover would likely have won. Now it's pretty much impossible to show him fictionally without making him look bad.  A lesson for us all, I suppose.


Blogger New England Guy said...

The only Caro book I have yet read about Johnson (He has 4 volumes) is the one that covers this period so it should be fun (and should replace memories of the Randy Quaid Life of LBJ TV movie that I recall from 20 or 25 years ago)

I think your footnote on Hoover would be a good subject for future post- not so much about Hoover specifically (though there is plenty to write about*) but about the notion that wildly popular people and ideas can over a period of time be considered unthinkable later (and perhaps continue to seesaw thereafter)- something about the nature of change in society.

* I have a tangentially -related Hoover story- that I need to post someday. My wife's great uncle, Les Rodney, was a sportswriter for The Daily Worker from the mid30s to the mid50s (when he left the party) and was apparently somewhat popular as a sportswriter. (I'll write a longer post on him some time)- A relatively recent public request indicates that J. Edgar was fixated on him - had him followed and monitored until the director's death in 1972 (by which point Lester was a religion writer in Long Beach) and wrote a book in 1958 where in aside he expressly excoriated Lester for introducing "communist poison into the box score"

6:22 AM, May 26, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 50s, if you were accused of being a communist your career was over, but if you were accused of being a racist--well, that didn't happen, because no one used that word and no one necessarily thought it was wrong.

A generation later, and still today, being called a racist not only ends your job, but also your standing as a human being, while being called a communist would be considered some sort of joke.

9:08 AM, May 26, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well not everyone-Trump seems to be wearing the racist label well (he has certainly been called one) and parlayed it into a huge success (so far)though I agree that the people calling him that also believe he is some sort of joke

10:58 AM, May 26, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but everyone knows that's just political correctness--Trump is not a racist, and pretty much no one is except the farthest-out extremists who are not players. In public debate, racism is a phantom menace--racism is explicitly excoriated by Repubs, Dems and just about everyone else--but it's so important to the Left to call people racist that they literally couldn't function without it. Meanwhile, if there's even a hint you're a racist, you will be out of a job--but since Trump is his own boss, that can't happen, though there have already been many boycotting him because they want to pretend he's racist.

On the other hand, Bernie truly is some sort of socialist--he wishes to have the government take over more and more of all private property--and Hillary isn't that different. While such beliefs won't harm normal employment aspects (excluding personal effects, like how it might make you want to work less), I wonder if it'll have any play at all when it comes to voting.

11:11 AM, May 26, 2016  

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