Hamilton was hailed as a revolutionary musical when it opened on Broadway in 2015 with its rap battles between historic figureheads, energetic hip-hop sets and a cast consisting primarily of people of color. The writer and lead actor, Lin-Manuel Miranda, transforms one man’s story to something so gorgeously and fiercely relevant to our society today.
The film, now streaming online worldwide on Disney Plus, follows the story of Alexander Hamilton, an ambitious, brilliant man. Immigrating to New York with nothing to his name, he is able to rise to the highest levels of the Continental Army using nothing but his own ambition, marry into a wealthy family, become America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and lay the foundation for the U.S. economic and banking system.
However, in doing this, he sets up his own demise. His life-long dream of writing his own legacy is ruined by his own mistakes, and Hamilton’s political rival, Aaron Burr, ultimately kills him in a duel.
Directed by Thomas Kail, the film brings a beautiful intimacy to the show that would be difficult to experience as an audience in the crowd. The cameras often go so close as viewers can see the beads of sweat on Leslie Odom Jr.’s head after a thrilling number, and we even see Jonathon Groff spit out of anger over the loss of his colony. Other times, the cameras themselves appear to dance along with the performers on stage, floating to the music and lyrics we now have the privilege of watching over and over again.
It’s impossible to compensate for the spectacle of live theater, but “Hamilton” is truly a seamless blend of theater and film that highlights both pure acting as well as the splendor of the stage. Some clips even include the conductor of the pit orchestra and close-up shots are only used with a purpose as to not break the holistic presentation of a Broadway show.
Being able to hear the audience’s applause after each set, laugh along with King George’s phenomenal performances, and even experience an intermission makes the movie just cinematic enough to feature the musical’s emotional nuances without interfering with the magic of the stage.
Journalist Mark Harris describes the show as “a lot of pieces of great American political art, it’s relevant both in times of optimism and in times of darkness.”
“Hamilton,” a show which has re-casted the Founding Fathers as people of color, hits even more powerfully during the Black Lives Matter movement with our country’s current efforts towards racial justice. Not simply a retelling of the history written by white slave-owners, the film is a version that includes black people and immigrants, a reminder that America is only worth what it is and not what it aspires to be. It’s a version that hasn’t been told through the petrified pages of our history books.
“Hamilton imagines America’s history in different voices and therefore questions everything about the way you have been told history and the way you’ve been asked to incorporate it into your thinking about the world,” Harris said.
“So now, we live in a tougher and angrier moment, and seeing this cast, you can’t watch them without thinking about all the stories that aren’t told, all the people who are prevented from telling them, all the people who do not ever get granted custody of the narrative. And about the people who are determined to hold on to that custody.”