“… features wonderful performances, good direction, and a story that is well told despite a few hiccups in its structure.”
I’ve always been a fan of movies that feature historical moments, probable because I was so shit at history, so All The Way was right up my alley. All The Way is a film about the 36th President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson, and it stars Bryan Cranston as LBJ, Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr., and a whole bunch of other people that you would surely recognize. The film picks up right at the tragic start of LBJ’s presidency, and follows it through to his re-election in 1964. The film focuses mainly on LBJ’s work on the civil rights act that was promised by President Kennedy before him. That being said, All the Way does do a fairly good job of balancing a specific issue with the broader story of LBJ himself.
Right off the bat I feel that I have to discuss the wonderful performances in All The Way, the best of which was from Bryan Cranston. Cranston was able to capture the likeness of America’s most crass president with ease, and I would say that he even disappeared into the role. It’s no surprise that Cranston did well, but it was a little surprising to me just how well he did. The dedication that obviously went into this performance was staggering, and it honestly felt like I was watching the real LBJ. This was captured not only in his very laid-back persona, but also the myriad of personal moments that Cranston was able to capture in his performance. We get to not only see the side of LBJ that everyone in America saw, but we also get to see the personal side of LBJ and how he was impacted by all of the insane pressures he was put under. The film also features a great performance by Anthony Mackie who did a great job as Martin Luther King Jr. I definitely wouldn’t say that Mackie’s performance was at the same level as Cranston’s (that almost goes without saying), but I did fell that he held his own. Also, the film wasn’t really about Martin Luther King Jr., so there weren’t many moments for Mackie to shine. All The Way had a shitload of other cast members, each doing a wonderful job, but what I think the film should be applauded on was the likeness-casting that it accomplished. Not only did they make almost every character look like their real life counterpart, but they managed to do so with actors who were actually competent. All The Way sets an example for what all period-piece movies should be in that regard. Like I mentioned before I am shit at history, but despite that fact I did still find All The Way’s story engaging for the most part. It takes real talent to take a story that is so complex and essentially make it idiot-proof, but All The Way did accomplish that task. I also really liked the direction of the film which I thought was absolutely beautiful. The shots in All The Way are inventive and intriguing; they a mange to not only do their job, but they do so in a way where it is interesting to watch. I would say that on a technical level, All The Way is close to flawless.
Despite me liking All The Way for the most part, I did feel that it had a few issues. The biggest problem I had with All The Way was the way the story was structured. The first half of the film starts off when LBJ becomes president, and then immediately shuffles into his civil rights bill. This is fine, I assumed that the film would have been a bit more broad than that but it was fine. This plot line gets tediously resolved with a lot of conversation and voting, and when it finally came to a close I felt fulfilled. The story that the movie chose to cover had come to an end. Curious to see how much wrap-up the film would have, I checked my phone. To my surprise, this complete story only took up half of the movie. I was distraught; I didn’t know if there was any end in sight. As quickly as it began, the film shifted gears into a very loosely related plot line of LBJ’s re-election. This is fine, because this story proved to be an interesting one as well, but that sudden change in gears is what throws me off. All The Way doesn’t feel like one movie to me, it feels like two movies hastily shoved together. I’m not sure what caused the narrative to seem so disjointed, but whatever it is really did a number on this movie. There are countless ways that the plot could have been smoothed over to include both stories, but instead we got a black screen that essentially ushered us in to the second half of the movie like a chapter marker in a novel. It felt… ‘cheap’ isn’t the right word but it certainly didn’t feel right. It’s a shame because both stories were really well told, but their connection to one another is a serious problem with All The Way.
Overall All The Way is a really good look at an important time in America’s history. This spotlight is also shared by a biopic-esque look at President Lyndon B. Johnson. All The Way features wonderful performances, good direction, and a story that is well told despite a few hiccups in its structure.
I give All The Way a B