Reprising his Tony Award-winning role as Lyndon Johnson in the HBO adaptation of Robert Schenkkan’s play All the Way, Bryan Cranston continues to show he’s one of the most talented actors working today. President Johnson was a big, physical man and Cranston disappears into his characterization.
Directed by Jay Roach and scripted by Robert Schenkkan, the story follows Lyndon Johnson as he steps into the presidency after John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Even as Johnson worries he will be thought of as an illegitimate President, the Texas democrat is determined to pass the Civil Rights Act. Schenkkan’s script skillfully examines how Johnson expertly juggled various constituencies, liberal Democrats, Southern Dixiecrats and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) while trying not to ruin his chances of reelection in 1964.
At the same time, the Vietnam Conflict was becoming hard to ignore; the number of American troops being sent over there was quickly escalating. Feeling mounting pressure and facing obstacles at every turn, Johnson battled with longtime colleagues in the senate, offering up favors when necessary and making a few enemies along the way.
While some may find it difficult to find suspense in events where the outcome is known—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does in fact pass congress—All the Way succeeds in showing the difficult machinations that were necessary to get it passed, in the face of vehement opposition. While Bryan Cranston’s performance is at the center of everything, Frank Langella does a fine job as Senator Richard Russell, Jr. of Georgia, a mentor of Johnson’s, whom the President calls “Uncle Dick.” A segregationist, Johnson regularly finds himself at odds with his old friend, as he works to convince Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters that any civil rights bill will address their concerns. While Anthony Mackie’s performance as King is admirable, he doesn’t quite have the necessary charisma. While the supporting roles are ably handled of particular interest is Bradley Whitford’s Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey. Representing the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, he often acts as Johnson’s conscience, speaking up for the bill when it appears as though the President might throw in the towel. The only real iffy characterization, Steven Root’s portrayal of FBI director Herbert Hoover is as someone obsessed with King to a troubling degree.
Given some room for dramatic license, All the Way is a fascinating story about Lyndon Johnson, a complex and occasionally difficult man, who nonetheless was determined to pass civil rights legislation despite opposition from all sides.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, HBO’s 1080p presentation offers up excellent detail and clarity throughout. The sets, costumes, etc. put you right in the mid-sixties. While much of the action takes place in the White house or other limited spaces, a few shots in congress and at the 1964 Democratic National Convention show off some depth. Colors are bright and vivid throughout, while blacks look appropriate. Flesh tones appear normal and there are no artifacts or noise to report.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix manages to be immersive much of the time. Given the dialogue heavy nature of the film, I’m happy to report that voices are clean and clear throughout. The limited effects are fine, if not spectacular. Fidelity is well balanced.
English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Bryan Cranston Becoming LBJ (HD, 1:55) A look at the makeup process that helped Cranston become LBJ.
- All the Way: A Walk Through History (HD, 10:06) The filmmakers, historians and others provide a brief overview of the events portrayed in the film.
- Digital HD