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John Adams (DVD)
Based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal path to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. But he also gains the esteem of the first national government of the United States, i.e., the Continental Congress, which seeks non-firebrands capable of making a reasoned if powerful case for America's break from England's monarchy. The first thing one notices about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here. Some horrendous things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under the command of George Washington. But the process isn't easy: not every one of the 13 colonies-turned-states is ready to incur the wrath of England, and behind-the-scenes negotiations prove as much a part of 18th century congressional sessions as they do today.
Besides this peek into a less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at critical junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of helping to draft the U.S. constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence has been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams' 54-year marriage to Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and anchor, and his difficult, almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades. Giamatti, of course, has to carry much of the drama, and if he doesn't always seem quite believable in the series' first half, he becomes increasingly excellent at the point where an aging Adams becomes bitter over his place in history. Linney is marvelous, as is Dillane, Sarah Polley as daughter Nabby, Danny Huston as cousin Samuel Adams, and above all Tom Wilkinson as a complex but indispensable Ben Franklin. --Tom Keogh
- The entire seven-part miniseries on three discs
- David McCullough: Painting with Words: a rare and personal glimpse at the life and works of author David McCullough
- Facts Are Stubborn Things: An exclusive on-screen historical guide
- The Making of John Adams featurette
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Top customer reviews
John Adams was, as Abigail says in one scene, an exceptional man. His conscience and motivations were constant. He wasn't the best father but not the worst either. No cameras were taking footage back then, but this retelling has as much of the human story as likely happened. ExTREMEly well written and produced.
Paul Giamatti is brilliant his portrayal of Adams' understated, quiet and yet brooding temperament. It's so good that I actually found myself imitating it just for fun.
Laura Linney is equally brilliant a Mrs. Adams, with her lines and thoughtful responses to John's visceral eruptions and seemingly gentle conflict uttered with perfect pronunciation and intonation. Really, it's uncanny dialog.
Just watch it. More than once.
It's also fun, and a bit nerve racking, to wonder what you would decide to do in their shoes, given the information available to them at the time. Do you chance independence, or risk the wrath of the King and death? Do you request aid from other countries? How to repay them for their assistance while remaining now independent? What is the best way to convince your fellow citizens of the right course?
Also, bear in mind this is a miniseries about John Adams, not a story written to explain all the facets of American Independence. I felt at times they were skipping important parts of the story of the USA, only to remind myself this is the more a story of a person, and not specifically the formation of the country. I noted from other reviews this series is a bit more depressing and focuses more on the failures of Adams, and magnifies minor events. Although I haven't read the book this is based on, I would agree about the overall feeling in the second half of the series - rather dark and depressing. It's a drama though, so I expected some level of exaggeration and loss of focus.
I enjoyed it overall, and would recommend it to anyone willing to know more about the people involved in the birth of the USA.