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The review of Manhunt is nearly as tiring as the task of personally chasing down the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.
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The review of Manhunt is nearly as tiring as the task of personally chasing down the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

Edwin Stanton was Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, confidant and friend, as well as an asthmatic and a workaholic. In the wake of the president’s assassination, he led a 12-day search for the killer, John Wilkes Booth, trying to get ahead of Booth’s plans while coping with his own ill health. I think it’s a toss-up as to whether he or I, after getting through Apple TV+’s miniseries about his endeavours, ended up more exhausted.

Manhunt is a complex story, involving the assassination and a chase between the main characters. However, we are already familiar with how the chase ends, so to create a sense of risk and unpredictability, the events are not presented in chronological order. The story starts on the day of Lincoln’s death, then jumps to 30 minutes before, then 10 minutes, then five days, then 10 hours, and at times there are gaps of years. While most of these time transitions are labeled, there are instances where they are not, which can be more confusing than having no labels at all.

Next up is the important historical aspect. Every minute detail proudly proclaims: “I am completely accurate!” The talented Hamish Linklater performs a spot-on impersonation of Lincoln, while Glenn Morshower carefully explains the Confederacy, Union, Reconstruction, and the lack of support from Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson. The plot to assassinate not only Lincoln but also members of his cabinet is revealed, along with a look at the secessionist south and other key events.

Then there is the resonating, the parallels drawn between 1865 America and the US of today – both in a state of high emotion, both at tipping points, both still riven by racism and strewn with politicians who will exploit people’s bigotries and fears for their own advancement. “This is America,” says Stanton (Tobias Menzies) at one point to an antagonist. “We replace our presidents with elections, not coups.” Take that, Proud Boys!

It is all quality stuff. But it takes itself very seriously and the insistent detailing makes you yearn for the leaner, keener beast buried within this lumbering one to break free. The chase is the thing, but its narrative is so broken by the time-jumps and diversions that it becomes another handful of pieces in a jigsaw puzzle rather than a driving force carrying us with it.

However, the standout aspect of this piece is the impressive performances. Anthony Boyle truly shines in his role as Booth, seamlessly transitioning from actor to assassin. He possesses a magnetic charm that is balanced with a sense of danger, steadfast in his belief that John Wilkes Booth’s notoriety is justified, regardless of the means. In contrast, the character of Stanton, played astutely by Menzies, is known for his meticulousness and strong principles, making them complete opposites. Menzies’ usual understated style as an actor is a perfect complement to the character he portrays.

The supporting actors are crucial to the overall impact, and their performances are backed up by the rest of the cast. Lovie Simone is particularly impressive as Mary Simms, a former slave who helps treat Booth’s injury and ultimately becomes a key witness in the trial, despite a lifetime of fear. Lili Taylor’s portrayal of Mary Anne Lincoln is also captivating and Betty Gabriel is exceptional in her role as Elizabeth Keckley, the dressmaker for the widow. Their powerful performances highlight the immense importance of the outcome, as the possibility of progress for their communities hangs in the balance.

This portrayal and performance are sufficient to make the experience, which might normally feel overwhelming like a medicine, more enjoyable and make Manhunt a worthwhile watch that demands careful attention from viewers.

Source: theguardian.com