Bryan Cranston reprises his Tony-winning performance as former president Lyndon Baines Johnson in the newest HBO film, All The Way. Here’s to clearing space for another Emmy trophy because the moment this movie was placed on the HBO schedule, he won the award.
Directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Robert Schenkkan, the film covers LBJ’s first year in office. It wasn’t an easy year for LBJ and it was before Vietnam got out of hand. The LBJ administration hopes to pass a landmark Civil Rights Act, which JFK had called for in 1963. LBJ finds himself between a rock and a hard place, whether it’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or trying to please all those Southern Democrats that got him into office (It’s said that Kennedy doesn’t win in 1960 without LBJ on the ticket).
King has to control some of the members of the Civil Rights movement that are closer to the radical side of things. At the same time, LBJ tries to move this bill through the House and Senate floors. It passed on the House in early February with a vote of 290–130. The Senate vote didn’t come until June because of filibusters. When it did pass the Senate (73-27), they added an amendment that the House took up and passed. It was there for President Johnson to sign on July 2, 1964.
With the passing of the Civil Rights Act, LBJ knew that it meant that the Democratic Party would lose the south for the rest of his life. The movie stretches through the 1964 election and depicts some of the struggles at the Democratic National Convention, where some delegates walked out as they were opposed to African-Americans being seated.
This film is very important and comes as America faces another battle, this time relating to transgender rights although there’s still racial inequality in many cities. At what length were these politicians willing to go in order to pass or defeat the Civil Rights Act?
Schenkkan, who wrote the play and movie, was raised in Texas and volunteered for the president’s campaign in 1964. His dad also worked with Johnson when he was trying to create a public television station.
Roach is no stranger to political films. He directed both Recount and Game Change. He saw an opportunity to show LBJ’s journey, to show us a man who was willing to stand up for the rights of others despite those working against him.
Cranston leads a cast that includes Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Bradley Whitford, Frank Langella, Joe Morton, Stephen Root, Marque Richardson, Aisha Hinds, Todd Weeks, Mo McRae, and Spencer Garrett.
Just as Lincoln had a singular focus on the passing of a bill, so does All The Way. A complete biopic would not have had the same storytelling power that this one does. The only injustice is that it’s on HBO and not being seen on the big screen for larger audiences.