Oh, that LBJ. What a silly goose he was!
After JFK is assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) assumes the position as President of the United States. While it’s a controversial and heartbreaking decision, immediately, Johnson takes the position and makes it his own; promising more Civil Rights laws than even JFK ever promised. This leads him to talking with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) a whole lot, with some of their discussions ending with agreements, and other times, not so much. But while Johnson is out battling it with the Civil Rights activists and MLK, he’s also got to work his magic into winning the next election, which is nearly two years away. While for any President running for office again, there would be no issues, the problem for Johnson is that his Civil Rights bills are turning some people away from him, making him less and less loved among the blue-blooded Republicans. It’s all so very tense and crazy for Lyndon, but when push comes to shove, he knows that he can always fall back on his wife (Melissa Leo), who was there for him since day one and will continue to be do so, so long as he keeps his head on and doesn’t lose his temper too much.
Oddly enough, All the Way isn’t going to be the last Lyndon B. Johnson biopic we get this year. The already-titled LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as the titular President is currently being filmed and planned for a late winter release, which leads me to beg the question: Why? Why on Earth do we have not one, but two star-studded biopics about Lyndon B. Johnson? This isn’t to say that his presidency, or better yet, his character doesn’t deserve the attention, but at the same time, it’s hard to wonder why there are already two movies being made about the guy, when possibly one will do?
Then again, there is the case in 2012, where we had two Abraham Lincoln movies and those are definitely two stories that needed to be told.
Regardless, All the Way is an okay movie, but honestly, a lot of its impact is weakened by the fact that it almost tells the same exact story of Selma, but instead, puts it focus directly on the man white man of the story, the President of the United States. There’s no issue with that in terms of narrative storytelling, but after it having been hardly two years since the release of that much powerful, much smarter movie, I think it’s almost impossible not to compare the two, especially considering how ballsy and risky that movie seemed to be. In a way, All the Way is the kind of movie that would have been made and released before the 21st Century, where instead of focusing on the African Americans, their hardships, their strife, and all of the brutality they suffered, we focus on the one man who had all of the power in the world during this infamous and controversial time.
Also, it should be noted that in Selma, there was plenty of scenes dedicated to sitting there and watching as Lyndon B. Johnson himself handled conversations with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders, although at the same time, that didn’t take up the bulk of the movie. It still, however, provided a voice to Johnson who, from the viewpoint of that movie, as well as this one, was really just a guy trying to do the right thing, while also keep his ass in the White House seat. That’s smart and honest storytelling that doesn’t have an agenda, but more or less, try to tell a story, the best way it can.
That’s why All the Way is no Selma, by any means. However, I don’t think it wanted to be.
Jay Roach seems like the one guy HBO calls on to deliver these made-for-HBO movies with politics somewhere, somehow involved, and he’s made a nice career out of it. For one, his movies aren’t glitzy, or glamorous, but more or less, just natural, well-told stories that need to be seen, but not necessarily on the silver screen. It’s actually quite odd to describe, but there’s that feeling while watching All the Way, where you know that it’s perfect for cable, but not so much for the big screen.
Why? I couldn’t tell ya. It’s just feeling.
But much like the play it’s adapting, All the Way is really a platform for Bryan Cranston to act his rump off and well, he’s great at it. Much like he did in Trumbo, Cranston is using a signature and odd voice to really get us into the mindset of who this person is and their kind of personality, and it works, again. While you can tell there’s some deal of over-acting that got transitioned over from the stage, Cranston still handles it well enough that we get the perfect idea for who this person is, especially during the smaller, more humane moments.
Most of these moments come from the scenes he has with his wife, played by Melissa Leo, who is both the voice of reason, as well as the dog whisperer to the sometimes wild and cranky Johnson. Leo’s great at these understated, yet emotional characters and it’s why she’s a perfect choice. Anthony Mackie also shows up as MLK, and in a much better, more focused movie, I feel like he’d be the performance to steal the show, but unfortunately, he isn’t given a whole lot to do. Now if it was Anthony Mackie in Selma, we may have had a whole different movie on our hands.
Consensus: With a good cast, All the Way is better than its route, conventional format makes it out to be, however, with Selma still clear in our minds, it’s hard not to compare the two.
6 / 10
But hey, they’re pals in the end.
Photos Courtesy of: HBO