Tag Archives: Bryan Cranston

Batman: Year One (2011) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Batman Year One

Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Bob Kane (Batman created by), Tab Murphy, Frank Miller (Based on the graphic novel)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku

Batman: Year One is one of my most anticipated films from my recent DC Animated Movie Series splurge. I have actually held back on watching this film until I had caught up with the DC releases as I decided a few months back to watch these in sequential order of their release and what a wait it was. Thankfully this animated movie did not disappoint and I personally hold this up there with any of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films. Yes, that’s how good this is.

Based on the 1988 graphic novel by Frank Miller I was interested to read that Batman: Year One was almost adapted as a live-action film to be directed by Darren Aronofsky from a screenplay by Miller. The studio scrapped the project in favour of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). I’m kind of glad as I loved Batman Begins and to be honest without that film we wouldn’t have The Dark Knight. You could say that fans of Batman got the best of both worlds in this case. I am intrigued and curious to see what Batman: Year One would have looked like as a live action movie. Certainly the casting of Bryan Cranston as Gordon would have worked in that format more than Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Interestingly, McKenzie would go on to appear as Gordon in the television series “Gotham” and did a damn good job of that. Appearance wise, he ain’t a Bruce Wayne / Batman sadly.

Batman: Year One is predominately about the characters of Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne. It takes place when Bruce has returned from afar in what I can only assume as time away from Gotham to complete his training with The League of Shadows and his mentor Ra’s Al Ghul. It doesn’t focus too heavily on this part of his life but you get the jist of it. Jim Gordon’s story interested me more as we see another side of him. He isn’t the perfect person by any means and between the darkness it Batman and the white knight of Harvey Dent we have this character in the shadows who flits between black an white to adapt to the situation in Jim Gordon. I loved what the did with this character and how his personality was captured in the story.

The animation in this movie is, dare I say it. Classic comic book style. The colours and shading are perfect and the look of these characters was something different from previous Batman animation that I have witnessed. The look of Batman was the Grey suited crime fighter which isn’t my preference it seem to fit the bill in the style of the film. The cityscape and surrounding captured a very gritty and desperate Gotham that longed for a saviour, a symbol and they got that in Batman. Gordon’s obsession on tracking down “The Bat” was a big part of the storyline but overall it was about two men with the same ideology and purpose before they would work together. It was also interesting to see and pick up that we never see Batman use any fancy gadgets. Nor do we get to see the famous Batmobile make an appearance in the film. I didn’t mind this as it reminded us that Batman wasn’t superhuman, or as they like to say in this universe a “Meta-Human”. Here he is the skilled fighter with the same goal and intent as Jim Gordon.

Overall Batman: Year One is a complete film in what you hope and expect from this character story arc. The film was well received by critics and fans alike on its release and having Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery in the Directors chairs makes sense to me with their previous experience in these films. As an animated film it is one of the best in my option. I’m unsure on if it is more difficult to translate a graphic novel into a live action film or animated as both formats would be challenging for different reasons. What I will say though is at some point I think this will be released as a live action film and if they stay true to the book then I’m on board. With the announcement of a stand alone Joker Movie separate from the DCEU, then anything is possible. I previously advised that if you are going into these animated series for the first time that I recommend watching them in their time of release. Here is the exception as after watching Batman: Year One you will be hooked. Highly Recommended.

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Isle of Dogs (2018) Movie Review By John Walsh

Isle of Dogs

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson (story by), Roman Coppola (story by)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton

So I finally got round to watching Isle of Dogs last Monday, just a few days after watching Infinity War and I think it would be fair to say those are two rather different cinematic experiences. One had a packed theatre, the other had nine people. Wes Anderson is a very different, very quirky director though. He’s a marmite director in truth. But I love the man and his films. He’s a perfectionist with a very off-beat, dry sense of humour and an appreciation for detail that is mind blowing.

He also knows how to make a damn good stop-motion film and it’s this animated art form that he’s returned to once again for this particularly, out there release. There’s a plethora of adjectives I could use to describe Isle of Dogs, but in truth none of them would do it justice. I mean, you know a film is going to be full to the brim with quirky goodness when within the opening five minutes or so, “all barks have been rendered into english” flashes across the screen.

It takes place in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki and it’s greater territories; in a rather depressing, near future, dystopian landscape where dogs aren’t having a good time of it. A canine (snout) flu has broken out and corrupt mayor, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), has taken the faux regrettable decision of relocating the entire dog population to Trash Island. Which is exactly how you’d imagine it be. I.e. an abandoned, isolated island that’s full of trash with a rumoured band of aboriginal, cannibalistic dogs roaming around.

First up to try the new locale is Spots (Liev Schreiber), the beloved guard dog and pet of the mayors young, distant nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). We see him plopping down on the island, looking bemused at his surroundings and then the film jumps forward in time to introduce the self titled “pack of scary, indestructible alpha dogs” that will guide and befriend our young human protagonist for much of the film. There’s Chief (Bryan Cranston); Rex (Edward Norton); King (Bob Balaban); Boss (Bill Murray) and completing the quintet is Duke (Jeff Goldblum).

Each of them have their own mini backstory, fall from grace or rise to prominence and distinctly unique personalities. Four of them had happily co-existed with humans prior to the flu outbreak, but the quasi leader of the group Chief is an ex-stray with a propensity for fighting and a unfathomable urge to bite. It’s Chief’s arc that sees the most development throughout, his story that’s the most heartfelt and touching, as he eyes romance with Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), an alluring ex-showdog and gradually develops a close bond with Atari.

Now, one of the big positives I took away from Isle of Dogs, was that it had an intelligent, multi-perspective plot. It primarily follows the ragtag group of dogs as they journey across the desolate, other worldly and yet beautiful looking ‘Trash Island’ with the strange, young boy that’s entered their midst. It also follows the corrupt mayor, who incidentally is a proxy for a secret dog hating, syndicate and plans to exterminate the dogs; not to mention Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), a young foreign exchange student with an insatiable lust for conspiracy theories.

There’s also several well worked flashbacks that add depth and context to everything unfolding, certainly Spots six month existence on the island, and all these threads just weave together beautifully.

The voice acting was simply stellar and the casting was perfect. The majority of the human characters spoke in Japanese, their words translated in the main by Frances McDormand’s interpreter character. She was decent enough. Great Gerwig was brilliant as the young Tracy Walker, but the decision to have that character essentially school the natives, head up the pro-dog group and unearth the huge conspiracy felt like perhaps the only misstep Anderson took with this film. I can already hear the cries of cultural appropriation. Even still, I appreciated the heavy use of Japanese throughout and I thought he did respect the culture.

Now for the dogs. Jesus, these are some of the best voice acted animals I’ve ever seen put to screen. Bryan Cranston was the real standout as Chief. As I said previously, his character had the most development and the great man utilised that dulcet voice of his to perfection. I loved the others too, don’t get me wrong, but they frankly weren’t as vital to the plot. They bickered in the main, but were brought to life beautifully by the actors. Jeff Goldblum’s Duke was a living breathing rumour mill, gossiping throughout to hilarious effect. Honourable mentions too to Scarlet Johansson, Liev Schreiber and Harvey Keitel.

The visuals in this film were absolutely gorgeous. I’ve long been an admirer of stop-motion animations and this a fantastic addition to the many I’ve seen.

The juxtaposition of stop-motion and traditional cartoon was cool, it felt like the cartoons could’ve been a homage of sorts to Japanese anime, but I’m not totally certain of that. The attention to detail was astonishing. The placement of trash on the island, that incredible sushi scene, a kidney transplant, the dogs in general and the cotton wool used to mimick dust plume during the myriad of scraps, with limbs popping out at different intervals. The tiniest of details where highlighted and felt important. Even the short little bursts of translations that flashed across the screen on the regular. It was just complete artistry.

Much of this was down in part to cinematographer Tristan Oliver too, who’s worked with Anderson previously. He’s well acquainted with stop-motion and it shows because he did a tremendous job.

Alexandre Desplat returns to work with Anderson again on the score. It’s his fourth collaboration with the director. The Frenchman picked up his first Oscar for the Grand Budapest Hotel and he’s struck gold again. It’s a homage to both Japanese culture and Akira Kurosawa. The use of Taiko drumming was prominent. There was distinctive humming used in the films more foreboding moments and a more uplifting whistle worked into upbeat, happier instances. It was a fantastic score, as you’d expect from the man.

Isle of Dogs caught my eye after its showing at the Berlin Film Festival. I was always going to go and see this because I loved the quirkiness of it, the stop-motion and I’m just a dog person in general. It had a captivating story, with an array of interesting characters, great humour and it was visually stunning. It did what all good animated films should do, which is connect with a mixture of age demographics. It had a simplistic base story of searching for Spots and a deeper exploration of empathy and political satire.

I absolutely recommend this to anybody who loves a stop-motion animated film. It’s a highly entertaining watch and relatively short affair at 101 minutes.

Rating: 5/5

Last Flag Flying (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

LAST FLAG FLYING

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater (screenplay), Darryl Ponicsan (screenplay)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell

Last Flag Flying is the latest film by Richard Linklater and is about three old friends who served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.

Set in 2003, “Doc” decides against a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. The movie is based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan and is adapted into a screenplay by Linklater who is comfortable in a storyline built on relationships. The film is centred around these three characters throughout the film and what I enjoyed was the personalities that Cranston, Fishburne and Carell brought to the screen.

Steve Carell as “Doc” is brilliant. The actor portrays the role understandably filled with sadness and sorrow. But there is an underlying sweetness and softness to the character who also is the glue the holds the friendship between the three of them for the duration of the movie. I have just recently watched and reviewed Carell in “The Battle of the Sexes” and again I was impressed with the actors range. “Doc” has lost his son in War and tragically lost his wife recently also due to illness but his goal is to give his son the proper send off. Carell’s character throughout the story is unsure how his son died and also has a hard time accepting his son’s choice to enrole in US Services. Thankfully there is some resolve for the character in the movies final moments that put his anxieties and doubts to bed once and for all.

Surprisingly for me the character Reverend Richard Mueller played by Laurence Fishburne has some great moments comedically and its something I felt the actor handled very well. In the thirty years since the Vietnam War, Richard is a changed character clearly being a man of the cloth and appears to be settled and content in his life. The War and his past are exactly that, in the past. Fishburne plays the character much like Carell does with his character at first until Sal Nealon unearths the real Richard Mueller which I will get to shortly. Personally this is a side to Laurence Fishburne’s acting credentials I haven’t seen a lot of and I would certainly like to see more.

Bryan Cranston just continues to impress with his diversity in his choices as an actor. Here he plays former Marines Sal Nealon who now runs a bar and obviously likes a drink into the bargain. His first meeting with “Doc” shows the audience that although a little hazy remembers the War and his friends. Sal is the total opposite of Richard in this sense. He doesn’t forget and doesn’t appear to want to forget his past, but not in a nostalgic way but remembering the friendships during the conflict remains in his mind. Cranston and Fishburne together in every scene is a joy to behold. Both actors play off each other as if they have been friends for a long time and their characters bring out the best and worst in each other. The change in Richard from when we first see him and when Sal gets under his skin is very funny and gives you an idea on how these men would have had to cope in the extreme situation they found themselves in 30 years prior. This is what this movie is about.

Director Richard Linklater again shows his diversity in his film making. I know him best for the comedy starring Jack Black “School of Rock” and the odd but enjoyable animated movie “A Scanner Darkly” so it was interesting to see how he would handle a drama about relationships and keep the audience interested in what is a simple plot. Thankfully character development and putting the story out on the road manages to keep you watching and thanks to a very good script will have you pulled through an emotional wringer. Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell all perform brilliantly and I’m glad all three of them were cast in their roles. The Cinematography by Shane F. Kelly is also nice as the movie is filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the most of the scenery is a nice to look at.

Overall Last Flag Flying is a great relationship drama. I think calling it a “Buddy Movie” would be a disservice to the film as it deals with a rack of emotions and situations that doesn’t appear to be forced at any point. The film flows naturally thanks to Linklater’s direction and the casting helps the characters develop and connect with the audience. The movie appears to have gone under the radar being released in between the big blockbuster releases of The Justice League and The Last Jedi but thankfully is doing the rounds at local Film Festivals. I would recommend giving “Last Flag Flying” a viewing as it is an enjoyable film to watch from a technical point of view, a performance point of view and from a storytelling point of view. Highly Recommend.

Drive (2011) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

DRIVE

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

In hindsight Drive was probably the film that acted as the spark for Mr. Gosling’s transformation from heartthrob, rom-com regular into the more varied and refined actor he is today. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, the man also responsible for one of my favourite Tom Hardy films, Bronson, produced a cracker with this one too.

Ryan Gosling’s character isn’t given a name, channeling his best inner Clint Eastwood, he’s merely referred to as ‘Driver’ throughout. But rest assured, this is very much his film and the story closely follows this initially quiet and unassuming gentleman. He works as a Hollywood stunt driver by day and moonlights as a mob getaway driver at night. His steely, ice cold persona and incredible driving skills enabling him to excel at both professions. A perfect car flip, completed in one take, highlighting this perfectly.

He has a bit of a strange request that he demands of the crooks in exchange for his service. He only drives for five minutes and then no matter where they are, he parks up and leaves. This is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in the films striking opener when he swings into a car park nearby a baseball ground and casually bails out. It was an interesting, rather illogical and slightly strange, concept to implement into a getaway driver’s character and one of only two small gripes I had with the film.

Shortly after meeting him, things begin to improve in his personal and professional life. He slowly develops a relationship with his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young kid Benicio. Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his friend and the man responsible for engineering much of his work on both fronts, lines up a legitimate business venture for him as a racing driver with two Italian mobster contacts, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) sponsoring it. This provides Driver with the opportunity to leave his criminal life behind and look to a brighter future.

It’s heavily hinted that their relationship is purely platonic, mostly thanks to the gentlemanly, chivalrous, unspoken manner assumed by Driver every time they’re together. This is perhaps for the best because her troubled, convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and upsets the cosy equilibrium built between Benicio, his mother and their new friend. This moment is absolutely pivotal. It represents the turning point for Driver and the film itself.

Standard finds himself being blackmailed for protection money, an issue that soon threatens to endanger his young family. When Driver gets wind of this, he agrees to help out, returning to his familiar role as getaway driver one final time. Things don’t go quite as anticipated however. Standard is brutally killed in the aftermath and both Blanche (Christina Hendricks), an associate that tags along for the robbery and Driver are left at the mercy of the two previously mentioned mobsters. Well, Nino initially, but Bernie is soon drawn in too to clean up the mess.

Drive descends into hyper-violent madness after this and it’s this part of the film I got the most enjoyment from. It went a little John Wick at times with shotgun shots to the head, impalings, a brutal kicking in an elevator and a shocking wrist slice moment accompanied with strange words of comfort. Then there’s a highly memorable scene played out to the perfectly fitting Riz Ortolani’s ‘Oh My Love’. The score in this film is fantastic incidentally, that particular scene was the icing on the cake in that regard though the final scene is a close second.

The violence seems a little out of context and not at all in the nature of the Driver we seen in the first half, but then again, there was a subtle hint at this psycho undertone in his psyche during a brief bar altercation with a previous associate.

Gosling is fantastic in this film. He plays the role perfectly, his facial expressions are a little jarring at times, making him seem almost devoid of emotion, but I enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of madness he went through. Albert Brooks was incredible as Bernie. The calm indifference to the brutal violence he dished out was a tad unnerving. Though I’ll admit to laughing at that violent moment involving a fork. I’m not sure if that was the intended reaction or whether I’m just sick in the head. Cranston was decent as was Perlman. The whole cast were solid in reality. Hendrick’s cameo was outstanding, especially the look of foretelling terror she had in the motel room.

In the end, Drive was an incredibly enjoyable watch, particularly the taut, violent trail of vengeance that embodied the films second half. I’m not entirely sure when the film was set, but it had an 80s vibe that was only accentuated by the score, visuals and even that distinct scorpion bomber that only Gosling could pull off. It’s billed as a crime/drama film, but the violent, lone wolf, showdown with Bernie was like a homage to an Eastwood classic and made it feel more like a neo-western. It wasn’t cinematic perfection, not many movies are. For instance, the motivation behind Driver’s actions weren’t the most logical, but I wasn’t too perturbed by that.

I’d highly recommend giving this a watch if you haven’t yet seen it.

Rating: 4/5

Trumbo (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

TRUMBO

Director: Jay Roach
Writers: John McNamara, Bruce Cook (book)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman

The year is 1947 and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) one of Hollywood’s top Screenwriters along with other artists and colleagues are jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Although Dalton Trumbo was one of the most successful and highest paid writers in Hollywood in this era it wasn’t illegal to be a member of the Communist Party in the United States of America, he actually went to prison because he wouldn’t “name names” before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee)

As always Bryan Cranston continues to impress me in his various roles over the last few years. I reviewed his performance as Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator (2016) a few months back and I was looking forward to watching him portray another complex character in Dalton Trumbo. Again Cranston has the charm and delivery to intrigue the audience early on in the film and John McNamara (writer) although mostly writes for Television did a fantastic job in writing the true story based on the book by Bruce Cook.

Although Cranston is supported by a star studded supporting cast in Mirren, Lane and Goodman he owns all of his scenes and his delivery in the face of confrontation is an important factor in my opinion why he was casted to the lead role.

In a particular memorable scene involving a confrontation between Trumbo and Screen Legend John Wayne I can’t think of any other actor who could portray a man in the face adversity handling the pressure and the situation with gentle and articulated behaviour and coming off the better man in the scene.

I use the word pressure as the HUAC were supported by columnist Hedda Hopper portrayed by Helen Mirren and my impression of the HUAC was that they weren’t just satisfied with sending these men to prison. They wanted to bury them. Mirren although has limited screen time doesn’t waste a second in her role as Hopper. A manipulative and spiteful character in this film and I have to say it is very rare to have that feeling of dislike towards a character played by Helen Mirren but she plays the character convincingly and although I don’t know enough of Hedda Hopper I did get the impression that she held a lot of weight in her day in control and input within the HUAC.

A little brief history on the HUAC was their task to create a blacklist of people within the business who had affiliations with the Communist Party preventing them finding employment in Hollywood which led to a lot of writers etc losing their homes, some divorced due to money struggles and others losing the will to live. Some had to make their way over the seas to Europe for work.

Trumbo wrote and directed using substitutes or false names and in some cases credited some of his work to close friends working in Hollywood who weren’t on the Blacklist and winning academy awards. He would have to take a step down in pay to distribute his writings to Frank King who was a studio owner who mostly worked in “B” movies. King was portrayed by the brilliant John Goodman and although he knew of Trumbo and his alliances, he didn’t really care about that as he knew he had a first class writer working for his studio. Goodman is at his best in these roles as the hard hitting, nothing to lose characters and here he is no different.

Playing Cleo Trumbo is Diane Lane as Dalton’s long suffering but supportive wife and does a fine job. Lane to be honest doesn’t have much to do in the movie. There are a few domestic arguments between Lane and Cranston in particular the stress of his writing and forgetting at times that he has a family. Lane is portraying the Wife and Mother trying to hold her family together in these harrowing times and she always manages to pull off these roles with conviction.

Director Jay Roach manages to keep the flow of this movie moving along at a reasonable pace that highlights the viewpoint of many in the United States at this time and also illustrates the difference in beliefs among the characters without portraying Trumbo as a victim to himself but a victim of circumstance at a time when the “Cold War” was brewing and showing how manipulative the media could be to the masses. Roach also manages to not bog the audience down with a political drama but more a human and family drama.The Director also should be applauded for demonstrating the great mind of Dalton Trumbo and his courage throughout the adversity. His story is inspiring and along with his family’s (mostly his wife and oldest daughters characteristics seem to support his pride, bravery and dedication to his cause.

I’m glad the filmmakers decided to include a montage of historical facts that took place after the events of this film and what happened in Trumbo’s life up to his passing in 1976.

I highly recommend watching Trumbo as a great piece of cinema and a must watch.

All the Way (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

ALL THE WAY.png

Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Robert Schenkkan (teleplay),  Robert Schenkkan (play)
Stars: Bryan Cranston,  Anthony Mackie,  Melissa Leo

Playing lead roles in biopics of Robert Mazur and Dalton Trumbo in The Infiltrator and Trumbo, respectively, hasn’t stopped Bryan Cranston pursuing parts and crafting his considerable talents which require him to transform himself, in spirit, into real-life characters. In All the Way, Cranston encapsulates the 36th President of the United in the harshest and most honest way possible.

Lyndon B Johnson has been portrayed on-screen before, ranging from movies like Forrest Gump to Batman: The Movie, as well as the prestigious Animaniacs. Numerous actors have also played the part including Michael Gambon, Liev Schreiber and, in an upcoming movie, Woody Harrelson. But enough was thought of the Tony-award winning play of the same name, written by the same author (Robert Schenkkan) and enough was thought of Cranston’s portrayal to warrant recreating the effort in HBO’s TV movie.

In the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination, hastily sworn in Vice President LBJ takes control of the White House at a particularly tumultuous time. The United States is in the middle of a Cold War with the USSR, the country is still reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets are winning in the space race, the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam is raging and the Civil Rights movement is gathering momentum, to which a sizable part of the country are deeply and violently opposed.
The film centres around LBJ’s attempt to push through meaningful civil rights legislation passed a barrage of stubbornness, ignorance and intolerance in Washington. The most notable barrier to a bill being passed is Senator Richard Russell (Langella) of Georgia who, among other Dixiecrats and Good Ol’ Boys, may abandon the party if it succeeds. Their citing of ‘Southern traditions’ are a thinly-veiled smokescreen of contempt for any significant change to the way Black voters are registered in the South.

It seems as though for the bill to come to fruition, LBJ may have to sacrifice the purity of its original intent to secure the votes needed, much to the chagrin of a certain Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie). MLK, desperately trying to appease a disenfranchised and oppressed people, is vehemently opposed to diluting the original content of the bill with several amendments.

Caught in the middle is LBJ. Trying to do what is right and losing out completely are what’s at stake. Heightened racial tensions and escalating violence towards African Americans for standing up for their beliefs are causing panic in the corridors of power. Further mayhem ensues when three civil rights activists are murdered in Mississippi, prompting the President to trick the Director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, into investigating the crime.

There are a number of very interesting aspects investigated throughout All the Way which has never really been explored before on film. Firstly, this is not a fond (or even comfortable) look back at the President. We aren’t emotionally invested in the character. He’s brash, bullying and mostly unpleasant. But that’s kinda the point. Cinema is littered with affectionate portrayals of history’s greatest men and women. Here, we aren’t emotionally in the character’s character, but in his beliefs. And that’s only right. LBJ is not remembered with the affection history has for JFK, the admiration for Lincoln or the stoicism of FDR. Johnson, in his own words, is America’s “accidental President”.

Bryan Cranston is becoming something of a master of playing real-life characters. He excelled in both the Infiltrator and Trumbo, the latter of which saw him embodying the persona. And that’s what we’re getting here. Much like Michael Sheen’s turns as Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair, Brian Clough and David Frost, this isn’t a performance or an impression of a man. He becomes LBJ, not by imitating the accent or wearing the glasses, but by affecting his mannerisms and being as dismissive and blunt as the real man through his body language, not the memorised words from the script.
Martin Luther King Jr is often portrayed as a confident, statesmen-like character (and quite rightly), seldom wavering from his beliefs and always knowing the right path. Anthony Mackie’s performance here is something quite different. He shows us a vulnerable MLK. Here he’s unsure, conflicted and more than a little lost. It would be a tragic understatement to say that it was a brave choice, by both the actor and director, to pursue this path. Mackie brings us a realism that’s so often overlooked in real-life portrayals.

The film also does something rather unique. It connects the dots cinematically, if not historically. Mississippi Burning, Selma, JFK and Jackie are just a few of the films where we know the story of everything else about such a tumultuous time is US history. This is the story that isn’t often told. Maybe it was deemed less poignant than the senseless and hate-filled motives of the murder of three people who protested for a better world. And it might be fair that LBJ’s story be overshadowed by that of the events in Selma. However, this is the story that needed to be told. The bigotry at that time wasn’t confined to Mississippi or Alabama. It was also in Washington. It was in the beliefs held by Senators, Governors and Judges.
Why this film was made at this time may be of note to some who might see comparisons between then and now. That’s not for this reviewer to say.