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Movie Review, "John Adams" (HBO miniseries)
self | 5/3/08 | LS

Posted on 05/03/2008 10:24:03 AM PDT by LS

Based on David McCullough's 2001 best-selling book, "John Adams," the HBO 7-part mini-series starring Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams is as important for the message that it sends as it is for the history it conveys. Beginning with young attorney Adams's defense of the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre (for whom he won an acquittal), the story follows the political career and personal life of Adams as he becomes a key member of the Continental Congress, editor/co-drafter of the Declaration of Independence, minister to France and England, vice president, then president.

Giamatti (whom I loved as boxer Jim Braddock's manager in "Cinderella Man") captures Adams's irascibility, his aloofness (especially to his family), his pig-headedness, and his complete lack of tact---most of the time. If Giamatti fails, it is in the common Hollywood tendency to whisper virtually ALL lines. I've never met any person who whispered one tenth as much as they do in Hollywood. So you sit with the Surround Sound up to 40, then a scene change, and cannon fire blows your windows out. Linney is equally good as the restrained Abigail, always able to speak frankly to John, and often the only one able to do so.

Other noteworthy performances are David Morse as George Washington, Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin, and Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson. (Morse was good, but no one can replace Barry Bostwick in my heart as GW). Dillane portrays Jefferson as an elitist who only speaks for the masses, but never really "knows their pain." His accent is . . . I don't know what. Certainly not southern, but I'm not enough of an expert on regional dialects to know exactly what a Virginia dialect sounded like in 1800, only that I don't think it sounds like his.

Adams's defense of the British soldiers gave him a credibility that few others had, especially when he finally settled on resistance to England. It is noteworthy neither Adams nor Jefferson saw combat, yet, as Benjamin Rush (John Dossett) says in the last episode, Adams and Jefferson "thought for us all." It's an important point: someone has to constantly refine exactly what is at stake, and why a conflict is necessary (or, as Adams argues when it comes to France and England from 1796-1800, unnecessary). It is the very argument many conservatives have made about Pres. Bush---that he has not done a good enough job constantly reminding people why the struggle is both noble and demanded.

Precisely because Giamatti as Adams almost never devolves into sentimentality, the series seldom "grabs you" on an emotional level. One touching scene is when Washington and Adams are announced to the cheering crowd as the nation's first president and veep, with the image reinforcing the reality that without these two men---one arguing for independence, one fighting for it---the Revolution ever would have occurred. Indeed, if it had JUST been up to Jefferson, it's unlikely the Republic ever would have been born; but if it was just up to Adams, it's likely it would have been born a monarchy.

Without doubt, the most emotionally touching episodes are the final two, where Adams struggles with a family that has not lived up to his expectations (his daughter has married a ne'er do well, his son, broke, John Quincy, alienated and angry.) Repeatedly, we see that even if it was Adams's personality to be distant, the sacrifices he made for his country were immense, as were those of Washington and Jefferson, and, yes, Hamilton. No man's honor was beyond attack: on two occasions, Adams actually fears mobs may storm his quarters and kill him (along with President Washington, on the occasion of the Jay Treaty). Like Adams, Jefferson lost a wife during his political career. Both, despite a mutual friendship, were torn nearly til the end of their days by political/ideological rifts that led them to say and do things they later regretted. In short, both men, to the good of the nation, neglected their own kin.

The most touching scene of the series comes when Adams disowns his derelict son for defaming the family name. Even at death he could not forgive him. An equally emotional scene occurs with the death of Abigail, whom Adams calls, as he weeps, "My friend. My friend." Indeed, for most of the series, John and Abigail appear to have a marriage that has transcended romance to an even higher plane---two sides of one personality.

Never let it be forgot that these people who founded our nation were human; yet at the same time, they were superhuman, for their sacrifices were enormous and made with full knowledge of the cost. I would rather have a John Adams, bad policies and all, than most of the modern politicians, regardless of their policies, for good character is impossible to add after the fact.


TOPICS: History; Music/Entertainment; TV/Movies
KEYWORDS: adams; americanrevolution; hbo; johnadams; moviereview; presidents; washington

1 posted on 05/03/2008 10:24:04 AM PDT by LS
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To: LS

I look forward to getting it on instant view/Netflix


2 posted on 05/03/2008 10:25:40 AM PDT by Mercat (the magician has lost control of the show)
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To: LS

I really enjoyed the series...I thought it was well done.


3 posted on 05/03/2008 10:29:27 AM PDT by devane617 (Rush Limbaugh is stuck on STUPID. Are you too?)
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To: LS

We thought this series was fabulous! I can’t stop talking about it and we will probably buy it when it becomes available.


4 posted on 05/03/2008 10:30:12 AM PDT by WhyisaTexasgirlinPA (It's the Vast Wright Wing Conspiracy - labeling all whites as racist.)
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To: LS

I’ve heard it was excellent; very glad to see your thoughts.


5 posted on 05/03/2008 10:34:14 AM PDT by BibChr ("...behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?" [Jer. 8:9])
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To: WhyisaTexasgirlinPA

Part 2 dealing with the Continental Congress was so good
that we watched it three times.The girl who plays Adam’s
son Charles wife is Meryl Streep’s daughter.


6 posted on 05/03/2008 10:34:23 AM PDT by Dr. Ursus (( commander of the simian host))
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To: Dr. Ursus
I didn't realize that! Yes I thought the entire series was good enough it should be shown to students. It really showed the sacrifices and struggles they endured. And, I think it also shows that differing ideas can sometimes meld to become a better solution.

I think few know that Jefferson and Adams, even with their differences, were close friends and died on the same day, July 4.

7 posted on 05/03/2008 10:37:18 AM PDT by WhyisaTexasgirlinPA (It's the Vast Wright Wing Conspiracy - labeling all whites as racist.)
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To: All

It is good. It starts and ends a bit slow, but is excellent in between.


8 posted on 05/03/2008 10:59:52 AM PDT by Luke21
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To: LS
Great review!! :o) I really enjoyed the series. There were some emotional scenes that brought tears to my eyes. They gave so much of themselves for the good of their beloved United States. With such love and dedication that they did neglect their families in service to this country.

I cringed when their daughter had breast cancer and they removed her breast with no anesthetic. Yikes! That surgical 'knife' was enough to make any woman cringe. I don't blame her for not wanting to have a second surgery when the cancer reappeared. Death would be much kinder, IMHO.

I came away from the series with a new found respect and admiration for our founding fathers and their families.

Abigail was my favorite. She was an incredible woman. Graceful, loving and strong. I don't think I could have survived in those times. I'm too spoiled. LOL

That having been said, I'm sure our founding fathers are spinning in their graves when they see what corrupt politicians have done to the country they loved so much. They sacrificed so much to make this Republic the greatest country in the world!

Do you know if it's going to air again? I missed part of one episode and would like to watch it again.


"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." Abraham Lincoln

9 posted on 05/03/2008 11:00:49 AM PDT by NRA2BFree ("The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves!")
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To: NRA2BFree
No, I have no inside info.

And, no, you did not want to have surgery of ANY sort back then. Washington had a tumor cut out of his abdomen without anesthesia. Unbelievable pain associated with medical procedures back then.

10 posted on 05/03/2008 11:10:28 AM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: WhyisaTexasgirlinPA

Howd’ja like those teeth? Makes you want to go floss, right?


11 posted on 05/03/2008 11:11:07 AM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: WhyisaTexasgirlinPA
I think few know that Jefferson and Adams, even with their differences, were close friends and died on the same day, July 4.

My granddaughter knows that, but, after all, she is a fifth grader.

I loved the series, but the book was even better.

12 posted on 05/03/2008 11:11:18 AM PDT by AUsome Joy
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To: LS
Dillane portrays Jefferson as an elitist who only speaks for the masses, but never really "knows their pain."

Have to disagree. I thought the series did a great job in showcasing Adams as a "federalist" believing in a strong federal government and a forerunner of todays democrats. Jefferson is accurately portrayed as a strong believer in individual rights.

One of the most telling passages in the series is where Adams speaks disparagingly of Jefferson: "he considers himself a republican and believes in the sovereignty of the individual, harrumph!"

13 posted on 05/03/2008 11:22:27 AM PDT by Species8472 (Time to drill in ANWR)
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To: LS

I also thought the series was great. It made me get out McCullough’s book and finish it. I am now reading “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. The book is excellent and believe me Thomas Jefferson was a pure liberal who wouldn’t condone Hamilton’s policies even as they were working. He was subversive also just as he was portrayed in the miniseries. Amazing what some reading will do. I thought I knew some history.


14 posted on 05/03/2008 11:50:55 AM PDT by Misschuck
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To: LS
No, I have no inside info.

I was hoping that you or someone might have seen or heard an announcement that they would play all of the episodes back to back again.

And, no, you did not want to have surgery of ANY sort back then. Washington had a tumor cut out of his abdomen without anesthesia. Unbelievable pain associated with medical procedures back then.

I can only imagine what it would have been like. I've had a lot of surgeries, and even with pain medication, I've felt a lot of pain. I've got a pretty high tolerance level for pain too. I honestly don't know how they could bear it.

15 posted on 05/03/2008 12:02:50 PM PDT by NRA2BFree ("The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves!")
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To: LS
Sounds good, but it makes me associate Adams with the lowlifes Giamatti usually plays.


16 posted on 05/03/2008 12:12:28 PM PDT by x
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To: LS

I got goosebumps when George Washington took his oath of office for the first time. Almost made me feel like I felt when Ronald Reagan was sworn in.


17 posted on 05/03/2008 12:35:48 PM PDT by murron (Proud Marine Mom)
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To: x
Sounds good, but it makes me associate Adams with the lowlifes Giamatti usually plays.

That’s why the call it “acting”.


18 posted on 05/03/2008 12:39:16 PM PDT by Caramelgal (Rely on the spirit and meaning of the teachings, not on the words or superficial interpretations)
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To: LS

I was very humbled at how little I remember of John Adams. The series was great- it reminded me how hard life was for our forefathers. We have much to be thankful for today.


19 posted on 05/03/2008 12:57:14 PM PDT by Cate (Thank God for the USA and our troops!)
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To: LS
Here is the original trailer, with scenes CUT from the TV series!!! I wonder if these scenes will make it to DVD? It is hard to believe Paul Giamatti, who played John Adams so well, was the same guy who played the crazy program director In Howard Stern's Private Parts and the short-tempered wine snob in Sideways...

CLick on the "HBO JOHN ADAMS" link for the John Adams Trailer with DELETED scenes not shown on TV!

20 posted on 05/03/2008 1:00:12 PM PDT by Captainpaintball
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To: Caramelgal
That’s why the call it “acting”.

Giamatti playing Washington or Jefferson would be acting ...

... the guy who plays angry little men, playing our angriest and littlest president may be typecasting ...

Nevertheless, a great man, and a great actor. I look forward to seeing the whole series.

21 posted on 05/03/2008 1:12:46 PM PDT by x
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To: x
Nevertheless, a great man, and a great actor. I look forward to seeing the whole series.

You really should. I haven’t seen all the episodes myself but what I’ve seen so far it has been great. I have Comcast on Demand and have been planning to spend one Saturday or Sunday to watch all the episodes back to back to get the full impact.

... the guy who plays angry little men, playing our angriest and littlest president may be typecasting ...

Giamatti doesn’t always play angry little men. Have you ever seen Lady in the Water?
22 posted on 05/03/2008 1:59:21 PM PDT by Caramelgal (Rely on the spirit and meaning of the teachings, not on the words or superficial interpretations)
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To: LS

OH man - I was telling someone about the teeth. It did curtail snacking during the show!


23 posted on 05/03/2008 2:18:19 PM PDT by WhyisaTexasgirlinPA (It's the Vast Wright Wing Conspiracy - labeling all whites as racist.)
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To: AUsome Joy
Hey no fair comparing the rest of humanity with Fifth graders - ;^)

It is very good to know that your granddaughter is so well versed on our Founding Fathers.

24 posted on 05/03/2008 2:19:21 PM PDT by WhyisaTexasgirlinPA (It's the Vast Wright Wing Conspiracy - labeling all whites as racist.)
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To: WhyisaTexasgirlinPA
I think few know that Jefferson and Adams, even with their differences, were close friends and died on the same day, July 4.

July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Jefferson's last words were "is it the Fourth?" Adams' last were "Jefferson still lives." He was mistaken.

The letters between Jefferson and Adams after both had retired from public life are a warm portrait of a lifelong friendship, though one often battered by politics; they are also an invaluable document of what the Founders thought of their work, even in areas where they disagreed amongst themselves.

I haven't seen the miniseries yet, but in McCullogh's book, one interesting lesson is the stark differences between the two Founders. Both were nominally farmers, but while Adams worked the land when he was in Massachusetts, Jefferson never got his hands dirty. Adams was the classic frugal Yankee, while Jefferson lived and died in debt. Adams was terse and focused, right down to business, where Jefferson (like Franklin and Washington) was more of a charmer, perfectly at home schmoozing large groups of people.

But the letters between John and Abigail are the real treasure. Abigail was her husband's full partner, and in their letters they discussed the philosophy of the new nation, and the events of the revolution.

Abigail even used code to send John intelligence on events in Massachusetts while he was in Philadelphia. Men didn't consider a woman any threat, so they wouldn't lower their voices or change the subject when she walked by.

Yet amid all of that, the letters between John and Abigail Adams are, for my money, the greatest body of correspondence ever between two soul mates. You can keep Robert and Elizabeth Browning.

25 posted on 05/03/2008 2:38:30 PM PDT by ReignOfError
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To: Captainpaintball

Lol. The De . . clar-——aaaaaaaa-—tion.”


26 posted on 05/03/2008 3:43:11 PM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: Species8472
The problem was, Jefferson never had solutions for anything. Ally with France. Ok, then what? Since we don't have a navy (ooops, TJ opposed building one), we won't be able to keep the country free after Britain declares war. Oppose Hamilton's fiscal policies. Ooops. TJ HIMSELF ordered Albert Gallatin to create the biggest spending (per capita) program in the nation's history, a $10 million roads-and-harbors project when the entire government budget wasn't $10 million. Fortunately, Congress wouldn't pass the program.

TJ built 200 stupid coastal gunboats that were all sunk in the War of 1812. Adams built four frigates that did incredible damage to the British fleet, and made them think twice about attacking American ships.

BTW, the original usage of the term "Federalist," which the miniseries failed to capture, was a group that favored SEPARATION of powers between states and the federal government. The Jeffersonians hijacked it to mean anti-central government.

27 posted on 05/03/2008 3:48:44 PM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: Misschuck
Hamilton was brilliant. Yes, he came from a quasi-mercantilist background, so he wasn't as "free market" as others; but his most important principle was that the nation had to pay its debts, that money had to be "as good as gold," and that enforcing contracts was the central economic business of a government. In that way, he greatly accelerated the free market and individual rights.

Jefferson contributed significantly too by developing a system in which land was released from government control to individual ownership---just the opposite of his "successors," the modern-day Dems. It was also TJ who suggested the Spanish, not English, money as a basis for our own . . . in 10s!

28 posted on 05/03/2008 3:51:56 PM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: LS

I agreee that TJ is vastly overrated as a statesman.

As a writer, his language will perhaps never be topped.

I’m not sure I understand your last paragraph. The Federalists like Adams were of a stronger central government. The anti-Federalists like Jefferson were opposed to what in hindsight were necessary central government powers. TJ initially opposed the Constitution for this reason.


29 posted on 05/03/2008 4:45:02 PM PDT by Sherman Logan (Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. - A. Lincoln)
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To: Sherman Logan
True. But what is not generally known is that the Federalists wanted divided government---central stronger, but they absolutely favored division of powers on levels. To the Washington/Madison/Adams Federalists, the "other" faction was the monarchists/nationalists, who didn't want states at all.

Check out our extended discussion of this in "A Patriot's History of the United States."

30 posted on 05/03/2008 7:07:36 PM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: LS
To the Washington/Madison/Adams Federalists, the "other" faction was the monarchists/nationalists, who didn't want states at all.

Exactly who were these guys?

The closest I'm aware of is Hamilton, who I believe made a single not perhaps serious but indisputably maladroit reference to the need for a monarchy. I believe he was actually referring to the need for a strong single-persopn executive, not for a King.

As far as I know, his suggestion met with universal and immediate rejection.

So who were the monarchists/nationalists?

My understanding of the only two factions were the pro-Constitution Federalists (Hamilton, Washington, Adams) and the anti-Constitution anti-Federalists. The latter wanted greater state power and limited national authority.

31 posted on 05/03/2008 7:13:53 PM PDT by Sherman Logan (Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. - A. Lincoln)
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To: WhyisaTexasgirlinPA
We thought this series was fabulous! I can’t stop talking about it and we will probably buy it when it becomes available.

Ditto. We don't have HBO, but DirecTV ran a free HBO weekend a few weeks back and I caught the first three episodes.

I will buy the series as soon as it hits the shelves.

32 posted on 05/03/2008 7:14:16 PM PDT by Skooz (Any nation that would elect Hillary Clinton as its president has forfeited its right to exist.)
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To: Sherman Logan

Again, check out our chapter in “Patriot’s History.” Mike Allen wrote most of this, and my brief explanation here won’t do it justice. He details precisely how the term “Federalist” was originally the term for separation of powers.


33 posted on 05/04/2008 4:10:18 AM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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To: LS

Thank you, but I do not have access to your book.

Perhaps you can accomodate me by listing just a few of the leaders of this previously unknown powerful “third force” which planned to abolish states and install a strong centralized government. My understanding of the period, which could certainly be in error, is that this faction didn’t exist except in the rhetoric of the opponents of the Constitution.


34 posted on 05/04/2008 7:15:39 AM PDT by Sherman Logan (Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. - A. Lincoln)
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To: Species8472

I have to admit that, at least in the early episodes, Jefferson came across as, well, gay.

And Franklin came across as an ass much of the time.

Still a great series though.


35 posted on 05/04/2008 11:29:52 AM PDT by SlapHappyPappy
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To: SlapHappyPappy
I have to admit that, at least in the early episodes, Jefferson came across as, well, gay. And Franklin came across as an ass much of the time.

About what I expected from HBO

36 posted on 05/04/2008 11:25:55 PM PDT by Species8472 (Time to drill in ANWR)
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To: Species8472

To be fair, I’m not sure that the portrayal of Franklin was that inaccurate. The scenes in France, where he was somewhat of a dandy, were probably spot on and, in my opinion, did not portray him in a positive light. From what I have read he was very well liked, and sincerely enjoyed, the French court of Louis XVI, and I think we all know what became of most of them just a few years later due to their elitist attitudes. Additionally, Abagail Adams at one point says that she doubts Mrs. Franklin would approve of a certain relationship. It is fairly widely accepted that Franklin was somewhat of a lady’s man in France.

As for Jefferson, I think it was more the actor than the script. He was just a bit effeminate. As he aged he seemed far less effeminate. HBO did not dwell on things like the Sally Hemmings Affair, which they could have, and instead chose to only discuss it essentially in passing as the Adams family sits at dinner discussing what was appearing in the papers of the day. Had they been pushing a serious agenda they surely would have focused more on that.

Overall it was an excellent portrayal of an often overlooked man. It did not stray far from historical fact, and also did not shy away from Adams’ flaws.


37 posted on 05/05/2008 4:56:40 AM PDT by SlapHappyPappy
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To: Sherman Logan

On vacation. More later. Amazon has the book, so everyone “has access.”


38 posted on 05/05/2008 4:57:08 AM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of News)
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