Wednesday, November 13, 2013

John Adams (2008)

  I haven't done a movie review in quite some time. The main reason why I don't do movie reviews very often is because they take such a long time, and often I have to think of things to write about the movie and that takes an even longer time. However, I don't think I will have much of a problem with thinking of things to write in this instance!
  This miniseries is one that Sadie and I heard about from a friend, and since we both love history and absolutely adored The Adams Chronicles that we watched this summer, we thought it was probably very good and we were able to borrow it.
   I suppose I should probably begin by simply saying that is was not nearly as good as I expected it to be, and it doesn't come within fifty miles of being as good as The Adams Chronicles. That said, I also can't help comparing the two, so a lot of that will probably come up in this review.
    The main reason why I didn't care for this miniseries very much was the casting, and the main reason why I didn't like the casting was because of who they got to play none other than John Adams himself.

  I'm sorry to say that I really did not care for Paul Giamatti as John Adams. At all. I was a bit wary of him after seeing his picture-- I mean, he doesn't really look like the type who would play such an incredible and influential man, he just looks like your average crabby, overweight senator in a western movie.  Paul Giamatti made John seem impatient, irritable, short-tempered, and just generally a grouch. Which, history tells us, is kind of the way John Adams was, but not always. I shall take this opportunity to refer to my beloved George Grizzard and say that his interpretation of John Adams (besides being absolutely adorable and amazing and perfect) was impatient and irritable and short-tempered and often grouchy, but he was also reasonable and wise and a loving husband and father to his children. Which brings up another thing I didn't like about this John Adams: he didn't seem to love his children. I know that sounds awful, but from the very beginning when they were all still very young he always seemed to either yelling at them or ignoring them, and then when he came home from Paris years later and they were all grown up, it was as if he barely knew them. He wasn't very affectionate. He didn't seem to care about what they wanted, he only cared about what he wanted for them, and to tell the truth, he kind of ended up making their lives miserable.
   In The Adams Chronicles, John Adams really cared about his children. He was affectionate, and we saw none of this from Paul Giamatti. He was always like, "Alright, John Quincy, I've decided you're going to the Netherlands, Thomas will go with you whether he wants to or not, Nabby must stay with your mother because that no-good husband of hers can't support them, and now I'm off to go whip some decency into your no-good brother Charles."

Oh my goodness. Would you just look at that. I am quite tempted to quote Mattie Ross.

   From the very start, as soon as I saw Paul Giamatti, I knew he wasn't right. But I decided to give him a fair trial. Besides being grouchy and short-tempered and sometimes downright stupid, his John Adams was comparatively unattractive from the beginning, but then as time went on and he got older he just kept getting worse and worse. Frankly, they just made him look stupid. Paul Giamatti doesn't need anything more to make him look stupid. When his hair turned white, his head turned blue, and when he was in the Netherlands and got sick he looked so bad I half expected him to just die at any minute. Then I remembered, oh, right, he still has to come back to the United States and be president first.

    Abigail was also a huge disappointment, especially after watching The Adams Chronicles,when John and Abigail Adams became one of my favorite historical couples. George Grizzard and Kathryn Walker were just so sweet, one of the most perfect film couples I've ever seen, and that's really saying something! Laura Linney's Abigail was just so....dry, really. She had absolutely no humor in her at all. At the start of it she didn't really say much, and when she did talk she was either whispering or shouting, which got kind of annoying if you can imagine. I also found it annoying how she seemed to be trying to employ a British accent for half the time, while the rest of the time she sounded southern. (Really, there was some kind of problem with the accents in this miniseries. I'll get to that in a minute.)
   John and Abigail's relationship left much to be desired. It seemed as if by making Abigail very quiet and somber they were trying to portray her as this divine fount of wisdom or something, but really she was just boring. Alright, perhaps she did give John some good advice now and then (well, someone had to!), but did he listen to her? DID HE?

   Abigail spent most of the miniseries complaining, about almost everything. Her favorite word was "deplorable". The government is deplorable, my husband's absence is deplorable, my lack of pins is deplorable, blah, blah, blah. No, I'm not belittling her struggles. I'm just saying that I don't think Laura Linney's interpretation was neither accurate nor pleasing. Yes, of course there were many things that needed to be changed and I know it was difficult to have her husband living so far away for so long, but frankly, I don't think she handled it well at all. The scene where Abigail is washing windows in the middle of the night and Nabby tells her to come to bed was, besides being reminiscent of Fairlight Spencer planting beans during the night in Christy, quite shocking, especially the way Abigail yells at Nabby when the poor child is just trying to help her mother. (What did I tell you? They are always yelling at their kids!) Abigail was doubting her husband's faithfulness to her and taking her frustration out on poor little Nabby, who hadn't done a thing. I almost wanted to shout, "Pull yourself together, Abigail! Don't you trust your husband?" Good grief.
  Now that I have already said some negative things, (and I'm afraid there are bound to be more), I will say that the one person I was pleased with was Thomas Jefferson. : )

 Very pleased indeed. : )

    Alright, y'all know that I am not really all that fangirly. Well, maybe I am, but only on occasion. Stephen Dillane's Thomas Jefferson is one of the few people who brings out my fangirly side. Seriously, if you watch John Adams and find yourself mooning over Thomas Jefferson practically the entire time, that's okay. I understand. : )
   Thomas Jefferson is one of those people who just has to be played well. And as much as I adore The Adams Chronicles, I didn't particularly care for their Jefferson. Well, it wasn't that I didn't like him, but he had a ridiculous amount of flaming red hair, a long pointy nose, and the guy must have been at least seven feet tall. Plus he had huge feet. In short, he did not fit my mental image of what Thomas Jefferson should (and what I like to think he actually did) look like. Stephen  Dillane did. I might even go as far as to say that he may be the best thing about this miniseries. Stephen Dillane portrayed Jefferson as a quiet, studious man, an independent thinker, and a revolutionary at heart. Jefferson had a genuine passion for the plight of the French people, which was something I hadn't known before, and even though he was part of the Republican party, he seemed to kind of have his own ideas about most things. One thing I did learn from this miniseries is that the American and French revolutions were more closely related than I ever knew.
  Mr. Jefferson, though mostly a serious man, did have some humor in him, which was a blessed relief. In The Adams Chronicles practically everyone had wit and humor in them, (except perhaps Alexander Hamilton), but humor of any kind was pretty hard to come by in this series. I actually liked the scene where John and Abigail and Mr. Jefferson are watching the air balloon take off (if only John had not been complaining about how it wasn't possible--hrmph.) In fact, the only times Abigail ever laughed were when she was with Mr. Jefferson. Hmmmm. It really is no wonder that John was a bit jealous, since standing next to Mr. Jefferson he looks even worse. But then, John and Abigail didn't seem to trust each other very much, especially considering all they had been through together.

  Another thing that didn't seem quite right was how John and Abigail always called each other by their first names. In The Adams Chronicles, John and Abigail almost always called each other Mr. and Mrs. Adams, which was adorable. As far as I know, that is how they typically addressed each other, and in their letters they called each other "dearest friend". They occasionally called each other John and Abigail, but in this miniseries I think the only time they said Mr. and Mrs. Adams was when Abigail came to France and they saw each other for the first time in years. (Don't even get me started on that scene. Inaccurate, unnecessary, improper. Not to mention stupid.) Besides that, we didn't get to hear any of their letters to each other, which was something I really missed. Arrrrghh.

  When Sadie and I first heard about this miniseries and looked it up on IMDB, we were delighted to find that our very own dear Mr. Pecksniff was Dr. Franklin! I've seen quite a few Benjamin Franklins in my time, and Tom Wilkinson is not the best, but he wasn't the worst either. I think my favorite would be either the one in The Adams Chronicles or A More Perfect Union. I actually realized when I watched The Adams Chronicles that Benjamin Franklin wasn't really the way I (and most people) generally think of him as being. We always think of him as a wise old gentleman with witty sayings who always knew what was best for America and its people, because that's the way the history books describe him. It never once crossed my mind that he was in any way careless, and yet that is exactly what he often was. While he and John Adams were in France, John found him to be often frivolous, careless about expenses, and not focused on what they were really there to achieve: an alliance with France. John also predicted that Benjamin Franklin would "forever occupy an elevated position in the American imagination", and he has.
   Tom Wilkinson's Benjamin Franklin was good, but not my favorite. I also wished they would have included John Adams' and Dr. Franklin's argument about whether to sleep with the window open or closed, which was an actual argument they had (one of many) that was shown in The Adams Chronicles, and was really quite funny.

  David Morse was THE WORST George Washington I have seen to date. Besides John and Abigail, I would say that he was probably the worst cast character in the entire series. Sink me, he was just so awful. There were numerous things wrong with him, but his main problem was that he didn't at all seem like a leader. The man looked like he was afraid of his own shadow, for heavens' sake. For being an army general and then later on a president, he sure didn't seem very confidant of himself. He also didn't say much, and when he did talk it was with a strained Irish accent, as if he knew he wasn't supposed to sound Irish and that's why he didn't want to talk very much. The poor man was always so nervous, almost painfully so. In fact, when we first saw him, before we knew he was actually George Washington and not some random officer, we thought, who is this weirdo and why is he always lurking about the congress without ever saying anything? Then we found out it was George Washington and we were like, "WHAT?" Couldn't they have gotten anyone better to play our country's first president and one of the most influential men in America's history? Johnny Cash would have been a better George Washington than this squarehead. (If you're wondering why on earth I would say such a random thing when Johnny Cash has never played George Washington and unfortunately never will, it's because the actor who played Washington in A More Perfect Union looked like and reminded me a lot of Johnny Cash, and he's the best Washington I've seen so far.) I actually don't even hardly remember George Washington in The Adams Chronicles, because he wasn't in it very much and he must not have been very memorable, but I know he wasn't this bad.

  Samuel Adams was just plain loud and annoying. The picture above should give you a pretty good idea of what I mean. I know that Samuel Adams was a wildly passionate, overly-zealous and outspoken patriot, but I thought Danny Huston's interpretation just a tad too much. In The Adams Chronicles, John and Samuel (who was affectionately called "Cousin Sam"--none of that here) often disagreed on matters, but they were still friends. After all, they were kin. In this miniseries, John and Samuel seemed to practically hate each other. I also found it kind of strange how Samuel mysteriously disappeared after John came back from France, because I'm really not sure what happened to him, but I suppose they simply couldn't include everything. Samuel Adams really wasn't in much of the miniseries, considering his name is listed on the back of the case, but all in all I was okay with that. The only line of his I really did like was when the president of the first congress session was reading a proclamation from King George III, and at the end when he read, "God save the king", Samuel said, quite loudly and slowly, "God d***n the king." I know, it wasn't very polite (well, HELLO, the man was a tyrant in their eyes!) and technically it was swearing, but at the same time it was pretty epic. There's no denying that. : )

   General Alexander Hamilton of New York was played by Rufus Sewell, a very well-known period drama actor. As much as I love Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson in Amazing Grace, I was a bit wary of him playing Alexander Hamilton, whom I have kind of had a crush on ever since seeing him as a dashing, youthful, impetuous, semi-foppish young man in with '80s hair in A More Perfect Union. Rufus Sewell just didn't seem right. I have since found out that the real Alexander Hamilton was closer to a villain than what I had envisioned him as and caused a great deal of trouble while he was part of the president's cabinet, which was a huge disappointment since I used to love him so much! In The Adams Chronicles they made him seem sly and conniving and almost made of wood (or maybe that was just the actor), but in John Adams he was just bothersome. Plus he often looked extremely bored, like in the picture above. He was obsessed with the army and he seemed to be disliked by almost everyone, with the exception of George Washington, which was probably because they served together in the war. He and John Adams never got along very well, and it just kept getting worse (although the scene where Adams says "Either you are star-craving mad or I am!" was pretty hilarious). The only person Mr. Hamilton seemed to dislike more than John Adams was Thomas Jefferson because of how strongly they disagreed on every subject under the sun, particularly everything concerning the French. If you ask me, there was waaayyyyy too much French business going on in this series. Even the American people began to look increasingly more like Frenchies, especially the mobs in the streets. It was just Les Mis all over again, and I did not appreciate it. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Tom Hooper.

   (Oh, did I forget to mention that Tom Hooper is the director of this series? That may explain a lot of things.)

  So anyway, Rufus Sewell's Alexander Hamilton was nothing special. In fact, he was just the opposite. He was boring. A line that Sadie and I have found applies to him perfectly is one from Angelina Ballerina, which we altered to fit the purpose: "I'm sick and tired of hearing what a great general you are, and I'm sick and tired of hearing how great the army is!"

  Guess who played King George III.

    King George III was played fabulously by our very own Osbourne Hamley, Tom Hollander. Although King George III was a constant presence throughout much of this miniseries, unfortunately he had only one actual scene, which would have been amazing if Paul Giamatti had not looked so pathetic the entire time. However, in that one scene Tom Hollander managed to bring an incredible depth to King George that kind of resonated throughout the rest of the entire thing. (Does that make any sense?) Usually in movies about the Revolutionary War, King George is very often mentioned but never actually shown-- because he was all the way over in England and the revolution took place right here in America. Tom Hollander's King George was quiet, serious, and actually surprisingly polite during John Adams's interview. The tension between the two of them in that scene was really what made it so great, for which I applaud Tom Hollander. He was excellent as King George III, probably the best I've seen.

  Now on to The Adams' children. From the very start, life at home for Abigail and the children was pretty bleak, and it didn't get much better. If anything, it got worse. I really didn't like how cold and unaffectionate John and Abigail were towards their children, especially John. In The Adams Chronicles (here we go again!), John and Abigail were loving parents who cared for their children and wanted them to have a good education and be happy. There is a very touching scene when John Quincy is young and he asks his father why he has to study Latin, and John tells him about when he was young and he asked his father the same thing. There was practically no communication between the children and their parents when they were young, they were just ordered about. In fact, the children didn't even talk to each other. For goodness' sake, they hardly talked at all until they had grown up! Another thing I loved about The Adams Chronicles was that it focused so much on John's family. He loved his children and when they grew up, he was proud of them.

  When John and Abigail came back from Europe and their children were all grown up, John didn't hardly even know which one was which. When they greeted each other for the first time in years, I half expected him to say, "So, which one are you? Charles? Thomas?"
  Things really didn't improve between John and his children after they were grown up. To make matters worse, almost every one of them ended up in an unhappy or unstable marriage-- every one except Thomas, who, to my knowledge, had a happy marriage and seven lovely children, although apparently the head honchos didn't see fit to let us see that part.

Sarah Polley as Nabby Adams
   Nabby, who was played by Sarah Polley whom you may know as Sarah Stanley in Tales of Avonlea, married John Adam's bookkeeper, Colonel William Smith. In The Adams Chronicles, Nabby was beautiful and sweet and William Smith was rather shy and kind and handsome with very attractive '70s hair. They were adorable together and we were led to believe that they had a happy life together. In this series, William Smith was awkward, had a weird Irish accent (what did I tell you about the accent problem?!), and we are led to believe that he was imprudent with his money and could not properly support Nabby and their children. Now, I have to give these people some credit for sticking to what really happened. Maybe William Smith really was careless with his money (although I seriously doubt he was Irish). However, it just wasn't right. There was no romance at all. It would have been one thing if Nabby and William were desperately in love and then William lost his money somehow and then they weathered their troubles together as man and wife, but of course it didn't go that way. One day William comes into John Adams' office, John yells at him for being careless just like he yells at everyone else, and then William goes to Nabby and tells him he is leaving for a while because he lost all his money. To make matters worse, William doesn't even seem sad, he just seems.......slightly discouraged. There is no romance, no passion, no real drama, we don't get to feel the pain-- everything is just so dry.

    Charles had it even worse. In The Adams Chronicles, Charles just kind of disappears after he's grown up and we don't really know what happens to him. Well, actually he marries William's sister Sally and they have three children. It seems like things are going well for him with his law practice and all, but he's always at odds with his father (who doesn't seem to love him). But then things get worse fast, and Charles becomes irresponsible, dissolute, and an alcoholic, he loses all the money his brother John Quincy lent him, and eventually he dies. I really had no idea that was what happened to him, so it was kind of a shock. Actually, that's very similar to what later happened to John Quincy's son, George Washington Adams.

   John Quincy didn't seem so bad, despite being rather unattractive, which was only a disappointment because John Quincy was so handsome in The Adams Chronicles. (When he was younger, that is.) When he was a little boy and accompanied his father to France, I was almost horrified when John sent him to Russia to be a clerk to some guy they barely knew. But then I remembered he was actually fourteen, even though he looked more like he was nine. (But still, what was John thinking?) When he grew older it still seemed like John was trying to control his life, and he basically did whatever his father wanted of him, but unhappily. But I suppose we couldn't expect him to be very happy when his whole family was continually miserable, now could we? He was kind of a boring character and didn't get much attention.

  The French people were all terrifying. The whole time John and Dr. Franklin were in France was just like a great big nightmare with scary painted Frenchies running around everywhere. Sink me, it was hard to tell which were men and which were women, they all looked the same! Dr. Franklin's friend, the Comtesse-something-of-something, looked as though she might drop dead any moment. Poor little John Quincy must have been terrified! The scene where Dr. Franklin and John were dining with all the scary French people at that long table was just creepy, and so I was rather disappointed that they decided to insert one of my favorite John Adams quotes right then, but by that point I had kind of given up on Paul Giamatti and so it wasn't too much of a disappointment.
   Paul Giamatti's John Adams was a terrible negotiator. He was unreasonable and impatient with the French people (although I sympathize with him in that regard) and the Dutch, acting like they owed it to the United States and if they didn't do as he wanted they had better watch out. The whole negotiating thing was extremely tiresome, for everyone involved: John Adams, the Frenchies and the Dutch, and me.

  Another quibble I had with Paul Giamatti was that he was so often whiny. He hardly ever had anything positive to say about anything or anyone and, as I said before, he was just a grouch. When he became president it got even worse, because if his appearance and negative remarks meant anything at all, he had absolutely no desire to be president and believed he could do nothing to help the state of his country. It was almost laughable. When he and Abigail first come to the house where they are to live until the White House was built (and Abigail gets yet another opportunity to use her favorite word), he complains about how much he hates making speeches, "standing in front of a thousand people to whom I have nothing to say." John Adams with nothing to say! Indeed! I suppose I understand some of what he was feeling, but he seemed awfully pitiful, and I didn't like that. You see, I don't think of John Adams as being pitiful. I think of him as being a great, influential man, a man of real integrity, and I definitely don't think of him as a complainer. It's not just that I don't like to think of him that way, I really don't believe he was that way in real life. Paul Giamatti seemed more like a mockery of John Adams than an accuracte depiction.

 John Adams' inauguration was actually kind of good. Considering how much I dislike the actor, this was a fairly good scene, and when George Washington said his famous "I am fairly out and you are fairly in" line, it did rather send shivers up my spine. John Adams' speech wasn't too bad either, although I wouldn't categorize it with Anthony Hopkins' speech as John Quincy Adams in Amistad or James Madison's speech in A More Perfect Union. This one wasn't too bad-- in fact, it was pretty good, but not quite as epic as I would have liked. I'm very fond of speeches in movies, you know. : )  

 The whole "Join or Die" thing got a bit old after awhile, due to over usage. I know that was a big slogan during the revolution, and personally I've always liked it, but it seemed like the filmmakers wore it out fast. Another thing was that the titles of the episodes didn't really have anything to do with what happened during the episodes, it was as if they just named them whatever they wanted to make it sound cool, like "Join or Die", "Unite or Die", and "Don't Tread On Me". (Hmmm, do I detect a theme here?) It's called redundancy. Throughout the entire miniseries it seemed as if they were less interested in making it educational and more interested in making it a Hollywood hit. (And, to my knowledge, they succeeded with that much-- I believe the series won multiple Emmys and a Golden Globe.) It was often unclear what was happening, and there were many times when I would have appreciated a date and location printed on the screen like they had in The Adams Chronicles. (There was also a very nice narrator in The Adams Chronicles, which made it even easier to understand.) Also, I thought they made it seem way too mysterious, almost creepy at times. It started with the first scene when John is riding home and passes the corpses hanging from a tree and the cloth reading "Join or Die". Well, what a lovely first scene. That sort of thing is fine in National Treasure, but it seemed out of place here. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that all in all, it just seemed too modern.

  Oh dear, I'm afraid this review may be turning into a rant. Oops. I could make this much longer (Sadie and I ranted on for over an hour one night about it, which was actually really fun), but I'm trying to condense it so it doesn't get too ridiculously long.

    I do have one more good thing to say, however. The music of this series is amazing. The theme at the beginning of each episode is what we hear the most, which starts out with the strings and a drum beating in the background, then the fiddle comes in with the main theme and pretty soon it grows to the entire orchestra. It's so gorgeous! I love fiddle and I love the tension in the music, and there's even one part in it that sounds like it might be uillean pipes. An absolutely beautiful soundtrack! The opening credits are pretty epic as well, with all the different flags flying.

    It's so thrilling and beautiful!

  So in summary, I didn't care for this series very much at all. I can't say how it ended, because I actually only made it to halfway through the sixth episode before Sadie and I said, hang it all, if we're just going to poke fun at it and point out all the things we don't like, we might as well not finish it at all. I don't want to say that it isn't worth finishing-- it might have an absolutely wonderful ending for all I know-- but for us, we took a break from watching it and pretty soon weeks had passed and no one felt like getting back into it again. (Well, I think my mom would like to finish it sometime, but for me, I really don't care.) If you have seen John Adams and you love it and think that everything I've said is a bunch of claptrap, I understand. I honestly don't wish to offend anyone. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and mine is that while this may to some people be considered a good series and an accurate depiction of John Adams' life, I personally didn't care for it.

 Have you ever seen John Adams? What did you think of it?


  1. Haha, you've now officially made me want to see the Adams' Chronicles! It sounds great, unlike what you're reviewing which sounds fine... but why see that first if there's better? This post came as such a coincidence- for I have just started Mount Vernon Love Story, which starts with John Adams' inauguration and George Washington's ascension from the presidency. Anyway, very amusing post.
    -The Madd Rose

  2. Well, it's been a long time since HBO originally "aired" this series but i find myself returning again and again to episode 4 with Giamatti and Hollander and, since the only account I find from 1786 is Adam's - the reason you might find that scene so strong is that is practically verbatim from Adam's account. "On Demand" HBO is great and your review thoughtful despite it's date. Giamatti is a bit insipid for people who need to deify the founding fathers - he did well and i agree with you about Linney with her mouseface and bad lines but that is the fault of the screen play and betrays producer-co Ton Hanks sexism and tiresome Hollywood white-male issue of what to do with the women?


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