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John Adams

John Adams (2008)

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Average Rating: 4.4/5
User Ratings: 177

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Movie Info

This epic miniseries from HBO takes viewers inside the incredible life of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCullough, the seven-part series follow Adams (Paul Giamatti, SIDEWAYS) during his leadership of America during some of its most turbulent times. It also captures his profound relationship with his wife Abigail (Laura Linney, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), one of history's great love stories. From the Boston Massacre--where

Unrated,

Television

Jun 10, 2008

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All Critics (5) | Fresh (5) | Rotten (0)

The epic sweep supports thoughtful reflection on the evolution of a fragile early republic...and the fragile ego of the man crucial to its existence. [Blu-ray]

June 15, 2009 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

The wisdom of John Adams' makers is not just to avoid powdered-wig iconography, but to actively tear down those limiting views of these revolutionary leaders and their tumultuous times.

June 24, 2008 Full Review Source: PopMatters
PopMatters

flawed yet ultimately triumphant

June 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

It's the most nuanced biographical portrait of a historical figure I've ever seen on the screen.

June 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Seanax.com
Seanax.com

A triumphant work.

June 10, 2008 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

Audience Reviews for John Adams

[font=Century Gothic]"John Adams" is an impressively detailed miniseries(especially about Washington, DC in its infancy but was all the medical stuff necessary?) about the life of the second President, well portrayed by Paul Giamatti as a cantankerous and stubborn man who made a great lawyer and activist, and an awful diplomat. Neither did Adams have the right personality to be a politican, especially with his inability to play well with others and accept criticism. During the Continental Congress, it was Thomas Jefferson(Stephen Dillane) who wrote the Declaration of Indepedence and it was Benjamin Franklin(Tom Wilkinson) who paved the way for it to be accepted. After all, being the smartest man in the room is not going to help if you broadcast it to everybody. However, at the right time and place, he made the correct decision for the United States to flourish for centuries to come. [/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The miniseries starts in 1770 with the so-called Boston Massacre and John Adams' defense of the British soldiers and follows his career and personal life through to his death in 1826 with his very long marriage to Abigail(Laura Linney) being the emotional core of the story.(If the miniseries has a critical flaw, it is that it is an hour too long and should have stopped in 1801 when he left the White House.) What is interesting is how his personal life paralleled the development of the United States. While his children were trying to figure out their lives with a liberal amount of parental interference, so also were the Founding Fathers charting a course for the country who with each action ventured into unknown territory from armed revolt to independence to a government of a representative democracy established by the Constitution. One subject of interest is the fear of the mob which is explored to the hilt before the revolution (and later feared in relation to the French Revolution) which would lead to an indirect election of the President, as the electoral college continues to haunt us to the current day.(Is it any coincidence that Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson were also in "Recount?") Strangely, there also are people today in this country who are enamored with the concept of hereditary government.[/font]
February 4, 2009
Harlequin68
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Look, now, I'm not saying that major entertainment awards are kind of liberal, but the only miniseries that got more Emmys than the saga about a bunch of black slaves fighting for respect and freedom was the miniseries about a bunch of gay people struggling with AIDS and other various gay problems, until the record for most awards ended up going to this, a miniseries so progressive that it's about struggles to find rights for America itself, or at least for the first, like, sixteen episodes. Seriously though, this series doesn't exactly feel mini, and that's not the only reason why I personally prefer "Roots" and "Angels in America", so I don't feel like this series is entirely deserving of its high honor of thirteen Emmys, though it's not like the competition in 2008 was especially pressing, because "Cranford" actually turned out to be an extended TV series, while "The Andromeda Strain" got weak reviews, and as for "Tin Man", well, seriously, like Best Visual Effects were going to go to something by the Syfy. Hey, don't get me wrong, I do like this series and all, it's just that it doesn't exactly help the fight against the idea that the second leader is less interesting than the first. Of course, in all fairness, British filmmaking is known for its dryness, and Tom Hooper is such a British director that the only major thing involving Americans that he's done takes place during a time where everything was so British that colonies ended up becoming their own distinguished nations just so that they could get away from the Brits. Before there was "The King's Speech", Hooper had to worry about "The President's Speech", which has to be an even greater challenge, because where King George VI could learn to suppress his lisp, there's no getting around Paul Giamatti's voice being just too darn silly to be that kind of old-fashioned president proper. Well, at least it's commanding... in a Frankenstein's monster fashion, and besides, Giamatti is a good enough actor that I'll buy whatever he's trying to sell, and sure enough, he does a lot to carry this series. That being said, while Giamatti and plenty of other aspects carry this saga quite a ways, there's still plenty that pushes the final product back from its full potential.

Clocking in at well over a total of eight hours in length, this is an extensive character study and period piece that has plenty of time to flesh out its vision in a unique fashion, and sure enough, there are relatively unique beats throughout the series, but only here and there, because for every refreshing note, there is a conventional beat that goes into crafting formulaic storytelling sensibilities, which end up blanding things up as conventional, and yet, mere conventionalism can't bland things up quite like good old-fashioned, 18th century style dryness. With all of my jokes about how Tom Hooper is such a British filmmaker that he is perfect to infuse some kind of sophisticatedly dry atmosphere into this political period piece in order to sell the era or something (Well, the shaky cam that reminds you of your simply watching faux history isn't doing the job, so, you know, desperate measures), this series' almost defining atmosphere is actively chilled in a lot of areas, and that's just fine more often than not, seeing as how there is generally enough compensation to keep intrigue pumping, yet when pacing really steadies, it limps, mostly into simple blandness, and often into all-out dullness. Either way, the point is that the colder spots of the series' atmosphere prove to be kind of repelling, and make no mistake, there is a lot of coldness throughout this series, whose compelling areas are potent enough to keep you from falling out too much, yet find a formidable challenge in the questionable deliberate pacing that all but robs storytelling of any real momentum, thus leaving it to fall slave to its length, something that you shouldn't be noticing too much. The series isn't exactly touching upon every highlight in the life of the late, great John Adams, but, as you can imagine, a lot is covered, so a runtime of about eight-and-a-half hours doesn't sound too terribly ludicrous on paper, but when you step back and look through the concept, into the final structuring of this promising story, you can expect to find a hefty supply of fat around the edges in the form of repetitious, near-aimlessly excessive material that drags on and on, struggling to charge the focus of this highly political character drama with exhaustive meditativeness, but just ending up shaking your focus. The series could have been more aimless, but if nothing else is wrong with the final product, it is overblown, dragging along its points, and blandly so, until you end up with a final product that falls short of its potential, which isn't exactly immense enough for the series to be able to afford all that many bland spells. As politically intriguing and, in plenty of areas, dramatically ripe as this epic is, there's a certain minimalism within this subject matter to the depths of this drama, and that really stresses light upon the less natural shortcomings, of which there are many, so much so that the final product, through all of its highlights, ends up collapsing into underwhelmingness under the pressure of flaws that are limited in quantity, but go quite a ways in the long run. The series isn't what it could have been, even if what it could have been was naturally limited in all that much meat, and yet, no matter how much the final product falls short, what it does well it does very well, giving you glimpses of what could have been in the midst of what ultimately is: consistent enjoyment, complimented by even the relatively lightest of strengths.

Quite frankly, there's nothing terribly new about this series' musical aspects, and it's hard not to notice that when the musical aspects prove to be so unevenly used throughout this generally quietly dry series that they end up being a luxury that you're bound to give extra special attention, yet whether they be adaptations of classical masterpieces made around the time in which this period piece is set, or lovely original compositions by Robert Lane or Joseph Vitarelli, the musical pieces presented here and there throughout this very artistic effort are nevertheless fine compliments to the depths of this series' heart and artistic integrity, further complimented by cinematographic duties that are shared between Tak Fujimoto and Danny Cohen, and rarely, if ever especially impressive, yet have enough well-defined crispness to their coloring, and enough immersively balanced, sometimes neatly stylish framing, to catch your eyes time and again, even if the shakiness of the camera sometimes shakes your ability to fully buy into the period piece as too much more than a mere theatrical dramatization of a much less technical time. There are plenty of areas in which the intentionally flawed camerawork gives you a sense of point-of-view that helps in reinforcing storytelling's intimacy, but more often than not, the imperfections in filming damage this costume drama's illusion of being more than a particularly well-polished TV show, yet never to where the illusion dissipates, for although technical issues show the seams within this period epic, the pricy production value that restores the distinct era in which this series takes place ultimately proves to be worth every penny, with Donna Zakowska's costume designs defining the style of the era and those who don a specific type of attire, while Gemma Jackson's production designs build the look of this world with an astonishing intricacy and rich dynamicity that is not simply immersive, but, in a lot of ways, lovely. The look of the series is consistently attractive, and as it gradually grows more and more realized, you can expect to find delight in watching the evolution of this historical epic, so when it comes to technical and production value, I must admit that this ambitious project has earned the praise that it has been given, no matter how much I find myself distanced by shortcomings within the substance departments, which, even then, are hardly too terribly lacking in compellingness. In concept, there really is only so much to this series' story, but there's still plenty of meat to potential, because while dramatic kick is lacking, even on paper, the political intrigue within this historically significant subject matter is highly worthwhile, and the more human deep aspects still have quite a bit about them that is worthy of an inspired execution, something that is not always delivered, but can be found in plenty of areas of storytelling, both of the writing nature that Kirk Ellis graces with clever dialogue and generally well-fleshed out expository depth, and of the directorial nature that the then-up-and-coming brings to life with a relatively lively, if not moving moment for every dull spell, especially when it comes to the particularly well-rounded and often deeply impacting, if sometimes, well, just plain depressing final episode. When justice is done to the ultimately value subject matter that is ambitiously deeply explored in this overblown epic, you get a taste of the series' full potential that helps in carrying the final product to the edges of bona fide goodness, regardless of the distancing moments, so it's not like storytelling is consistently messy, even though it kind of seems that way when you compare the consistency of the impressiveness within the offscreen performances to the consistency of the impressiveness within the onscreen performances. The ambitious project loads itself up with a wealth of distinguished talents, and appears to be a bit too active to do so, because as respectable as this series' cast is, the casting choices are kind of questionable, but not so much so that you don't see why the talents were selected in the first place, because most everyone has his or her time to shine, with particular standouts being a moving Laura Linney as the loving and flawed, but generally strong wife of our protagonist, as well as Paul Giamatti as the titular recognizable protagonist himself, whose depths as both distinguished man of significance and a layered man of honor, integrity and family are near-effortlessly sold by Giamatti's charismatic and heartfelt portrayal, which is so inspired that Giamatti ends up immersing himself into the role as a truly compelling lead. Watching Giamatti portray the depths and layers within John Adams throughout his eventful middle and later life is consistently engaging, and sometimes downright mesmerizing, defining the legendary man of power as a human, with flaws, strengths and a heart that wouldn't be so clear without Giamatti's inspired performance, and this series wouldn't be the same without, thus making for a worthwhile lead who I wish was matched by his peers in terms of impressiveness, yet does not work alone in carrying the immense weight of this ambitious and flawed effort that may not go as far as it perhaps should have, but is still, to a reasonable degree, worth taking on.

Overall, conventional areas bland up storytelling, though not as much as the often dulling dry spells that retard momentum to the point of allowing you to really soak up the repetitious bloating, which in turn allows you to really soak up the natural shortcomings that, alongside the fair deal of distancing consequential shortcomings, drive the final product not simply short of what it could have been, but into underwhelmingness, though not so deeply that goodness can't come close to being achieved by the fine music, decent cinematography, exceptional production value and intriguing subject matter - brought to life by highlights in writing and direction, and consistently strong performances, particularly those of Laura Linney and leading man Paul Giamatti - that go into making "John Adams" an enjoyable, if messily overambitious miniseries that keeps you going on the whole, not matter how often your engagement value is challenged.

2.75/5 - Decent
July 6, 2013
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

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