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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Paul Giamatti is Electrifying as the Rotund Little Man Who Became the Unlikeliest of America's Founding Fathers

Author: classicalsteve from Oakland, CA
2 May 2010

I doubt the likes of John Adams could ever win a senatorial seat today. The presidency would be absolutely out of the question. At best, he would be a behind-the-scenes intellectual, akin to a David Axelrod or a David Plouffe, guiding tough decisions but allowing a much more glamorous candidate to make the speeches and sign the autographs. In short, John Adams could not have been president in the late 20th and early 21st centuries because of his looks and temperament.

John Adams has been one of the most enigmatic of figures of the early days of the founding of the United States of America. Part of this ambiguity was cleared up with the book by David McCullough, "John Adams". This HBO miniseries, maybe the best made-for-cable production since "Band of Brothers", chronicles the legal and political career of one of the more complex of America's Founding Fathers; it follows much of McCullough's book. McCullough spent hundreds of hours of research, particularly at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, pouring over the myriad of surviving primary sources from the mid-18th century. John Adams, unlike Thomas Jefferson, is one of the most well-documented of American historical figures. Much of what we know about the circumstances regarding the War of Independence, the Continental Congress, and other incidents is because of the preservation of these documents by the Adams family for the last two and one half centuries. (By contrast, Jefferson destroyed many of his own documents.) Much of the series comes from these primary sources sifted through by McCullough.

John Adams was nothing like a Jack Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan, a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama. He was short, stocky, unattractive, and had a pug nose, although he had penetrating eyes. During congressional debates he was once referred to as "His Rotundity". He could be overbearing, argumentative, occasionally rude and often big-mouthed. He could not tolerate incompetence and stupidity, at least as he defined it, and he had a bad habit of tactlessly letting people know. And yet, he was one of the titans of legal and political intellectualism in the American Colonies and one of the key figures that enabled their secession from Great Britain. During the Enlightenment of the 18th century, intellectualism and scholarship was more highly valued among leaders in America than it is today, and John Adams made up for his other shortcomings in spades. (Alas, in modern times, American politicians are often elected because of charisma, charm and movie-star qualities rather than intellectualism.) Therefore, no other actor in the business could play him as well as Paul Giamatti. As Adams was no Kennedy, neither is Giamatti which made him perfect for the part. Only the finest actor lacking star power could handle such a role. His performance is one of the best of an American historical figure, on par with Denzel Washington who portrayed Malcolm X. High marks also for Laura Linney as Abigail Adams. Both won Emmys for their performances.

The series begins with the tides of animosity and distrust that began stirring between the American Colonists and their British rulers in the 1760's and early 1770's. Although the acts of the so-called Sons of Liberty were already escalating growing tensions, Adams was not the first to sign on to the idea of secession, although his cousin Samuel Adams already had. Few Americans know that Adams was involved with the case of the so-called "Boston Massacre" of 1770, in which soldiers fired upon an angry mob that resulted in the deaths of five colonists--not exactly a massacre but that's how it was portrayed. On principle, Adams accepted the case to defend the soldiers who were eventually acquitted. The acquittal did not endear Adams to many of his fellow colonists. It was only later, in part convinced by his cousin Sam Adams, that he agreed to join the cause for independence. The series chronicles his rise in leadership during the debates of the Continental Congress in which he and Ben Franklin advocated secession. He later became ambassador to France along with Franklin to negotiate the French supporting the colonial rebellion.

After the war, he was elected as the first Vice President. Apparently he was quite ambivalent to his office, wondering if having been given the role of Vice President was somewhat of insult, but he would later recognize the honor it was. After Washington retired from public life, Adams was elected for one term as the second President of the United States in 1796, in part because of his crucial role during the War of Independence and his high intellectualism. As President, Adams avoided a war with France that probably saved the American nation, particularly since the United States had almost no defense. Unfortunately, since they were largely ignorant of the state of the military, the citizenry was largely in favor of such a war, and he lost his office to Jefferson in 1800. Later, a correspondence between Adams and Jefferson helps to reconcile their differences. They both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the new nation.

John Adams may have been the "smartest man in the room", and he had the integrity to go with it. Even though many of his colleagues, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, thought him insufferable at times, they revered his high intellectualism, and honored him by electing him President of the United States after George Washington. But in some ways, Adams was his own worst enemy, not knowing how to negotiate and debate in a civilized manner without demeaning and degrading his opponents. Politics is the art of negotiation, not just making the best arguments. I liken Adams somewhat to Jimmy Carter who was also highly intelligent but could not always negotiate with his political colleagues. This docudrama helps to reveal the multiple sides of Adams, and hopefully, the importance of what he did, how he did it, and why.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Nearly spoiled by the camera-work

Author: wilsr from Australia
31 December 2012

I agonised about what star rating to give "John Adams".

I cannot comment on the historic authenticity. However, the sets, sound, makeup, CGI, storyline and dialogue are outstanding. All the actors are excellent and it's invidious to single any one out. But Giamatti and Linney stand out with incredible, intimate and emotional performances.

So why the "agonising"? Quite simply, although the cinematography and lighting are technically perfect, someone somewhere - presumably the director in consultation with the producers - thought that a hand-held camera and the odd tilted horizon would add something to the story.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are two valid excuses for a steadycam shot: if it's physically impossible to shoot it with a crane, and to give the impression of a grabbed shot in, say, a war zone.

Unfortunately, too many otherwise first class directors have followed a craze that emerged a few years back, and appear to think that unsteady shots add to the experience. They don't: all they do is make you think about the mechanics of the filming and look for the exit. And tilting the camera for no good reason is just plain effete.

So: eight out of ten. A shame, because without the trendy camera-work I would give John Adams ten.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

One of the best miniseries ever made

Author: Maddyclassicfilms from United Kingdom
8 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

John Adams is directed by Tom Hooper, produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman,is based on the book by David McCullough and stars Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Stephen Dillane, Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson and tells the remarkable true story of the second President of the United States and how the USA gained independence from the British.

John Adams(Paul Giamatti)is a lawyer in America in the 1700's and we follow his struggle to help America gain independence from Britain and see how he eventually becomes America's second President.

The highlight of the series is the relationship between John and his loving wife Abigail(Laura Linney). Abigail is John's anchor,conscience and is his best friend as well.The scenes between these two are so raw,honest and heart breaking at times.

Abigail was left alone much of the time while John travelled on state business but the two wrote such beautiful letters to each other declaring their love for one another.

The series also stars Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson the man behind the declaration of independence and a lifelong friend of John's, David Morse as the first man to lead America George Washington,Tom Wilkinson as the legendary Benjamin Franklin and Sarah Polley as Adam's ill fated daughter Abigail"Nabby". The entire cast give superb performances but this is Paul Giamatti's show for sure, he is absolutely outstanding giving one of his best performances.

This is more than just a biography of one man and his family, it's a fascinating look at that time period and shows the hardship of life back then and how people coped with not very much to live on.

This series deserves a great deal of attention and is a good look at the contributions to history of one man and the start of a way of life that many now take for granted.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Highest possible recommendation!

Author: bernierb from Canada
28 April 2009

Being Canadian and history buff i was intrigued by this series prospects of my southern cousins' history.

Upon seeing the series i would say that this series is superb on all aspects, from the visuals to the story. The series played out well and there was magic flow thru all of it because of the marvelous acting and casting and visuals. Somehow i wish this series would have been longer because you really grow attached to the characters just after a few shows...

The only caveat is that the end shows feel a little bit rushed on the time-line that these persons lived in and you are left filling the time-line voids and try to figure out what happened to some characters in the series but then again it is absolutely engrossing to watch this show.

A glorious effort at trying to show us history for the modern men and women of this generation.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

A love story for the ages, my friend

Author: ( from Kansas City
24 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When the final episode ended, I cried. Not because it was sad (it was); not because it was emotional (it was); not because it gave you a swelling of pride (it did)... No. I cried because it was over.

The highest compliment I can give any story, be it a book or a movie, is that I don't want it to end. This was the case with John Adams. A show that I had high expectations for - and that it met easily. I wished it was 14 episodes instead of 7.

This was nothing short of a triumph. The production and cast were outstanding. Some people would argue that Paul Giamatti was miscast. And those people would be wrong. This is arguably the finest work he has ever done, and that's saying a lot because he has done some great, great acting.

There is only one complaint that I can make and that is that the story peaked too early. That zenith is reached at the beginning of Episode 4 during the reunion of John and Abigail after they had spent so much time apart. This was quite possibly the most touching love scene I have ever seen.

That was the heart and soul of the series. John and Abigail's unconditional and unbreakable love was the anchor that held all the turmoil and upheaval in place. Weaker men and women may have crumbled under such pressure, but they survived. The admiration and dedication they had for one another came through with a blinding radiance. It was not and over the top, grandiose, passionate-kiss-in-the-rainstorm kind of love story, but one that was far more subtle and real. I can't think of anything more beautiful and romantic and loving as the simple act of John calling Abigail "my friend."

What historical inaccuracies there may be are irrelevant. Even if only half of this story is true to history, this man deserves far more credit and respect than we have given him. So HBO turned a bloodless ship to ship encounter into an action sequence... big deal. The spirit of the moment is what matters, because we can never truly know what happened at every moment or know every thought and emotion.

And what emotion there was. Because if this show, this story, can make even a cold blooded cynic like me feel patriotic, then it sure as hell has done something right.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Fabulous and worth the watch

Author: kaks827 from United States
6 April 2008

This is one of the finest television events that I have viewed. It is so powerful that we can watch something of value - something that we can view with wild anticipation. If we could see other events like this -- founding father by founding father - we should only be so lucky.

Paul Giamatti is masterful. Morse as George Washington is unbelievable. Wilkinson as Ben Franklin makes me understand Franklin's depths and flaws. I am not sure how we can continue to teach our children only the highlights without the lowlights. This production shows us the process of making our country, warts and all. I applaud the producers, the cast and the director.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

A wonderful depiction of historical events.

Author: monsieurdl from United States
21 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First I would like to address the criticism of the first two episodes, specifically about the so-called plodding, odd nature of the first episode. Like any book, there must be an establishment of characters and a base by which to work from- nobody can be expected to understand a story unless those involved are understood. The Boston Massacre was a sudden jolt of reality to Adams, and his relationship with friends and family are vital pieces which must be explained. The camera work is used to emphasize the dramatic forces at work, the tension of having to choose between what is right and what is popular. The Boston Tea Party was not shown because obviously it is more important to explain WHY the colonists were so upset rather than every event that occurred, and in one scene we would never know who John Hancock really is unless the conflict with the official is shown, and his interests in seeing America independent down the road.

The acting by Paul Giamatti is truly outstanding- the subtleties of the man himself are shown with careful precision rather than overdone acting, which is all the more important when faced with other giants of American history like Franklin, Washington, or Jefferson. Whoever was involved in choosing this cast has really earned themselves many, many awards, because from what I have seen the rest of the series can only get better when more action is added.

To add about Pennsylvania's role in the Congress- what most people are not aware of is that Pennsylvania was a large roadblock when it came to defending the colonies from native rebellions and wars- they constantly ignored cries for help from fellow colonies and even from their own people in the western part of Pennsylvania. Franklin had failed to bring together a common defense in Albany, mainly due to his own fellow constituents. This was the primary reason why the tension between the New England colonies and Pennsylvania ran high, and why John Adams went after the Pennsylvania representatives out of sheer frustration, and why Benjamin Franklin understood both points of view and reacted the way he did. Adams felt that once again Pennsylvania was hiding at the rear as they did during the earlier part of the century.

I am thrilled that historical drama, well done, has made a return to television in the form of episodes. I would highly recommend this production, even only seeing Episodes 1 and 2.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Putting a human face on history

Author: blanche-2 from United States
22 January 2013

Very few of our nation's forefathers seem very human to us today. Important men, yes, but with the exception of maybe Benjamin Franklin, he of the smiling face and the twinkle in his eye, we don't connect with any of them.

The brilliant HBO miniseries "John Adams" gives heart, soul, ambition, foibles, and temperament to these men - Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Adams, and tells us about who they are, how they lived, their interpersonal relationships, and their goals for our country.

Meticulously cast, historically researched, and impeccably costumed, we are given a look at the personal and professional life of John Adams (Paul Giametti), his wife Abigail (Laura Linney), and his children. Because of his work for the country, the family was asked to make sacrifices as he had to travel and stay away for long periods of time. It fell to Abigail to take care of the farm and their family.

We get a good look at the hardships people endured in those days, including the crudeness of the medicine, the difficulty in communication - no Internet, no phone, only letters that had to travel great distances.

Giametti and Linney -- there isn't much to say because there aren't sufficient adjectives. Brilliant, mesmerizing, detailed, flawless, emotional performances - all those words are trite. The beauty of the casting is one of the things that makes this miniseries great, and these two actors are at the top. Stephen Dillane as Jefferson, David Morse as Washington, Tom Wilkinson as Franklin, Rufus Sewell as Alexander Hamilton, are all sheer perfection. But none are asked to do what Giametti and Linney did -- Giametti had two days off in six months, apparently -- Adams lived until he was 90, and we saw him do it! This is a breathtaking miniseries that vividly shows the language, the way of life, the hardships, and the political arguments of the era, and puts the experiences into breathing human beings. I am so glad that I saw this, and thrilled that the actors and series received so many awards and nominations. Painstakingly directed by Tom Hooper, and written by historian David McCullough and Kirk Ellis, "John Adams" is a landmark in television and not to be missed.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Tour de Force

Author: lanzman from Virginia, USA
23 April 2008

As others have already noted, this miniseries should become required viewing in every American History class in the country. I read McCullough's bio of Adams about a year ago and found the miniseries to be endlessly impressive. Giamatti portrays Adams as a full human being rather than an historical caricature. Laura Linney makes you feel the inner strength of Abigail Adams. The other actors in major roles all perform wonderfully. I just wish they'd gone a few more episodes, giving more space to some things that were glossed over (like the whole War of 1812). Multiple Emmy's for HBO are certain, and for several of the cast. With the short shrift the Founding Fathers are given these days, portrayed either as horrible slave-owning Old White Men or else unapproachable god-like figures of American legend, this very humanizing look at the times and especially of Adams himself are a breath of fresh air. Can't say enough good things about this one. It's going to do well on DVD.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: ShadoWolf0913 from United States
30 April 2013

This series is truly amazing. The actors are very talented and believable, and the whole is a well-done and remarkable representation of John Adams' life. I always get bored out of my mind by the flat, matter-of-fact nature of textbooks and documentaries. Although I prefer films that show the actual war more than the politics, this film is what got me hooked on the Revolution, and history in general, and I would strongly recommend it to anybody who is interested in that kind of stuff.

I dropped one star because there are a number of historical inaccuracies throughout the series--pretty much all minor details, and for the most part, the plot is authentic, but it is something that matters a great deal to me with portrayals of history. I got the David McCullough's book after I watched this and I would highly suggest reading it as well if you really want to learn the details more accurately. Also, some parts of Adams' life feel like they were rushed/skipped over, but considering that they have to go through his whole life in seven episodes, they do a good job covering the important aspects. Other than that, I can find nothing to criticize. There is much use of silence throughout the film, which works wonders to inspire the mood of the various scenes, but when the score is played in the background, it emphasizes the moment dramatically. The title track, especially, is wonderfully patriotic and takes my breath away.

Again, I absolutely recommend watching this if you are interested in history and America.

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