All The Way

Year: 2016
Production Co: HBO Films
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Robert Shenkkan
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Frank Langella, Melissa Leo, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Ray Wise

Every time you watch a TV movie about a real life political figure or drama directed by Jay Roach, you're in good hands. He will have cast some great performers who actually act rather than just read lines, delivering a script that's as great and exciting as it is straightforward and accessible.

In this case the elements are Bryan Cranston as president Lyndon Johnson, Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, and the racially charged political atmosphere that prevailed while they were both at the peak of their influence.

Like Game Change and Recount, there's a very nice balance of the filthy quagmire of deal making and backstabbing of American politicking and the personal cost it exacts on those who take part in it.

We meet Johnson in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy's assassination, sworn in with the country in shock and ill-prepared for new approach after the optimism of Kennedy's tenure.

But Cranston plays Johnson (very ably helped by hair and make-up) as a good ol' Southern boy, all homespun homilies and old wives tales that makes him popular, but who's actually a lot shrewder and wilier than most of his opponents give him credit for.

He also knows – and believes – the time has come to stop segregating blacks and whites in contemporary America, and that the best way to signal change is to do what King (Mackie) and his supporters want and give blacks full voting rights.

But where King is an idealist who demands no compromise, Johnson knows that's what politics is all about, and the conflict of doing what he knows is right and doing what he can manage while attacked by powerful enemies on every side shows him at his weakest and most self-doubting, taking it out on his devoted and long suffering wife Bird (Melissa Leo).

Cranston, as usual, proves that he can do anything, and as is Roach's usual style, he surrounds the principal player (s) with strong support that make it all feel even more real and vibrant.

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