With a bittersweet, tragic conclusion, John Adams came to an end much the way the series began – with restraint, elegance, and truth that sometimes came in whispers and other times came shouting from the rooftops. The miniseries in seven parts had much to accomplish, putting forth the lofty ideals our country was founded upon and painting a picture of the life and times of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. No easy feat, to be sure, without it collapsing under the weight of “U.S. history.”
Cinema, whether it’s on television or in movie theaters, can often be measured by how it handles its ending; in this case, the Adams crew saved the best for last. As John Adams (played to craggily perfection by Paul Giamatti) reaches the end of his life, he must face his hardest moments – losing his daughter then losing his wife. For a man who spent much of his life trying to make sense of things, the loss of his wife caused him to wonder what the point of it all was.
Laura Linney is even more lovely unadorned than she is when she’s all dressed up and ready for her close-up. With no makeup, rotten teeth, and a corkscrew hairdo, Linney beams in John Adams – her Abigail Adams is every bit the feminist hero we’ve come to revere in history. She’s wise and brave throughout, and it’s no wonder she is the thing John Adams needed. A good woman doing more than standing behind her man – helping to shape his ideals and philosophy, holding the family together, dealing with the sometimes impossible ego and immaturity of her husband.
Linney and Giamatti have never been better. Who knew that Paul Giamatti could be this good? It is the role of a lifetime and shows both actors’ depth and versatility. But top to bottom, John Adams was an exceptional work in every respect – there isn’t a bad performance in it. The writers never felt the need to slam down every historical moment, but often let them pass in transitions or with a sentence or two. It is hardly a flattering portrayal of the founding fathers or of Adams. Finally, the director, Tom Hooper, goes above and beyond the call making it so visually stirring; this is not something you see on TV every day, if ever.
Seven parts of John Adams take us through the Revolution, the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence, the election of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. It is especially meaningful now as we choose our next president to remember back when a candidate’s word still meant something. Sure, there was corruption and betrayal back then, but the ideals were worth dying for. Government has become rotten and unworthy of the beauty of its humble beginnings.
And it is never a waste of time to take another look back at our part in slavery, especially Jefferson’s part in it. John Adams doesn’t dwell on this fact, but it’s there, hanging over them and doomed to come to an end. Adams himself did not own nor employ slaves, which is all the more reason why he makes such a great subject all these years later. Do not miss the opportunity to catch John Adams, Parts 1 through 7, which will continue to play on HBO and which are available now on HBO.com for purchase.