Hamilton is a musical film based on the Broadway play (which is in turn based on the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow) that has gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon. The film is directed and co-produced by Thomas Kali (in his directorial debut) and written, composed, co-produced, and stars Lin-Manuel Miranda. For those who might be confused, Hamilton is not a film adaption of the play but is composed of three live recordings of the musical at Richard Rodgers Theatre in Midtown Manhattan, New York City from June 2016. As the title suggests, Hamilton follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, from his arrival in New York City to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr.
The live recording of Hamilton sparked a bidding war between several major Hollywood studios including Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox (who would eventually get bought by Disney), and Netflix, who all duked it out for the rights for the film. Disney, whom Miranda has collaborated with several times since the debut of Hamilton, emerged victorious after Disney CEO Bob Iger personally approached Hamilton‘s producers about acquiring the film rights. The House of Mouse nabbed the worldwide distribution rights for $75 million, which is reportedly one the most expensive film rights acquisitions ever.
I should probably start this review off by saying two things: I’ve never seen Hamilton (the play) and I really haven’t seen very many plays. Hamilton debuted on Broadway not long before I started my junior year of High School, and I remember towards the middle of the year, a student-teacher included it a lesson plan one morning in my American Literature class. We listened to the song “My Shot” which I was mildly amused by at the time (the line in the song “Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly” has always stuck with me for some reason), but I also took it as a kinda cringey history rap reminiscent of those “how do you do fellow kids?” educational videos teachers are always showing in school.
From there, I’ve never understood the hype behind Hamilton. What boggled me the most about it back then but the entire concept of it. Who would make a play, let alone an entire musical, about Alexander Hamilton? I’d get a biopic, but a whole musical? But then again, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter exists, so I suppose it’s the idea isn’t too wild. Hamilton broke box office records, cleaned up at award shows, it’s soundtrack topped the charts for weeks and The Hamilton Mixtape, a soundtrack inspired by songs from the musical, was filled the brim with a lot my favorite artists received praise as well, and I still didn’t get it. Why was everyone hyping over it? I knew there would be no chance of me seeing it on Broadway, so I figured it’d just be something I’d never understand.
Fast forward to a few years later. Disney picks up the distribution rights for the live recording of Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, now considered to be one the most creative people working in entertainment, announced that would be in theaters on October 15, 2021. I was definitely interested in seeing it so I could finally see what all the hype was about. Then COVID-19 impacted the world and with all the uncertainty in the world, including Broadway officially being shut down until next winter, Disney decided to forego the theatrical release of Hamilton and dropped it on Disney+ this past Friday instead, just in time for the fourth of July weekend. After watching Hamilton, I came to several conclusions: I need to see more plays, I need to watch more musicals, it was worth all the hype, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, and all in all, Hamilton was phenomenal.
One of the strongest elements of Hamilton is its performances from its exceptional cast. Everyone here knocks it out of the park, especially Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. I love that Miranda cast actors of color as not just the founding fathers of America, but all the supporting characters as well. It’s a modern representation of how the country looks today in a colonial setting. The actors do such a great job in their roles that you don’t even think about how the characters actually looked like in reality. I also really enjoyed the pro-immigrant stance the play takes and consistently reminds the audience that Hamilton himself was an immigrant from Nevis (“Immigrants, we get the job done” got a laugh out of both of my parents, who are both immigrants). It reminds you that this country was built by immigrants and we wouldn’t be anywhere without them.I was also really blown away by was how good the rapping from the actors was. I was really impressed with the flows and breath control.
Daveed Diggs’s performance on “Guns and Ships” really had me in awe. The songs and the music in Hamilton seriously slap. The lyrics are incredibly well written and the production of the music sounds great as well. Two of my favorite songs from the play were “Helpless” and “My Shot“. Sixteen-year-old me might’ve thought the later was cringy but 20-year-old me hasn’t been able to turn it off since watching the play. Moving beyond the music, what makes Hamilton stand out from other plays is that nearly all of its dialogue is either rapped or sung. There’s barely any normal dialogue. I was always impressed by it. I loved how all of George Washington’s cabinet meetings where rap battles and how King George I’II always sang to the audience about his issues with the colonists. Funny thing, because the piano riffs are a bit similar, at certain points I kept thinking George was going to break into “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees.
I also really enjoyed picking up on the various hip hop Easter eggs in Hamilton as well. When Hamilton raps “I’m only 19 but my mind is older” in “My Shot“, it made me immediately think of Mobb Depp’s “Shook Ones, Pt. II” where that line was originally from. I also got excited each time “The Ten Duel Commandments” was preformed as it’s a parody of “Ten Crack Commandants” by The Notorious B.I.G., which is one of my favorite songs from him. Thomas Jefferson later on drops the line “Such a blunder sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder“, which is a nod to “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. I could go on forever about it.
The only real negative I have about Hamilton are some of the obvious censors are in the film. The film is rated PG-13 and had to censor out two instances of the f-bomb to avoid getting an “R” rating. It makes you wonder why Disney didn’t just drop the film on Hulu since there’s still a ton of cursing that remains in the film. Seems a bit inconsistent. But that’s my only real complaint about the film.
Hamilton is fantastic. It’s an amazingly written and superbly performed musical that actually makes history interesting for a lot of young people like myself. I honestly wish this recorded version was released a few years back so my sixteen-year-old wouldn’t have written it off so easily. Hamilton is worth all the hype. It makes me want to watch more plays and musicals and really start keeping up with the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. The man is truly a creative genius. It would honestly be cool to see more live recordings of plays with the theater (once the pandemic is over of course) and streaming services. While it might not seem as exciting watching it on a small screen rather than actually being in the room where it happened, the brilliance of Hamilton translates with ease. No matter how you see, it doesn’t throw away it’s shot.
Hamilton is worth all the hype. It makes me want to watch more plays and musicals and really start keeping up with the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. The man is truly a creative genius. It would honestly be cool to see more live recordings of plays with the theater (once the pandemic is over of course) and streaming services. While it might not seem as exciting watching it on a small screen rather than actually being in the room where it happened, the brilliance of Hamilton translates with ease. No matter how you see, it doesn’t throw away it’s shot.