MANHUNT Review: Killing a President, Disrupting a Nation, A Thriller

Tobias Manzies, Anthony Boyle, Lovie Simone, Lili Taylor and Hamish Linklater star in a dramatic thriller about the chase for a killer, debuting globally on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
MANHUNT Review: Killing a President, Disrupting a Nation, A Thriller

History comes alive through the eyes of a killer and a secretary.

The first two episodes make their global debut Friday, March 15, on Apple TV+. Subsequent episodes will debut every Friday, culminating in the finale on April 19. I've seen all seven episodes.

First published in 2006, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson is a breathlessly paced account of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and its immediate aftermath. The book is fabulous, a quick read that is immediately absorbing, making that period of time come to life vividly through meticulous research and splendid writing.

Creator, showrunner, and executive producer Monica Beletsky (The Leftovers, Fargo, I Am the Night) wrote or co-wrote all seven of the adaptation's episodes, which are gripping and, sadly, even more relevant today, in a world filled with deadly conspiracies by those in power, both financially and politically, and teeming with intense protests and continued, virulent racism.

Expertly directed by Carl Franklin (the first two episodes), John Dahl (episodes 3 and 4), and Eva Sørhaug (episodes 5 through 7), the series starts with the vicious, cowardly killing of Lincoln (Hamish Linklater) by John Wilkes Booth (Anthony Boyle) and then tracks back and forth through the years leading up to that momentous event and the frenzied days that followed the killing, as Booth made his escape in the company of young friend and co-conspirator David Herold (Will Harrison).

Much of the series is seen through the eyes of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies), a personal friend of President Lincoln, who is fueled by outrage over the killing and is equally motivated by a firm determination to see the policies that Lincoln espoused carried out, despite the reluctance manifested by Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower), who took the presidential reins after the assassination, and a nation torn apart by the Civil War.

Beletsky and her fellow writers breathe life into the real-life characters with dialogue that sounds authentic to the period, even as the series takes liberties with historical inaccuracies -- the bearded Stanton is played by the beardless Menzies, for example -- and play around a bit with the placement of characters in certain locations to enhance the dramatic urgency and impact.

For those of us who are not so well-versed in the history of the period, the sense of chaos and confusion that follows a momentous, generation-changing event is still relatable. We've all seen tremendously divisive figures affect living history, at a pace that is often difficult to comprehend. Sometimes you just want to hit 'pause,' as it were, and allow time to reflect and process what's just happened. The series allows for serious contemplation, even as it moves relentlessly forward.

With a raft of terrific, intensely dramatic performances by actors both familiar (Menzies, Linklater, and Morshower, as well as Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh, and Lili Taylor) and those less familiar to me (Boyle and Harrison, as well as Lovie Simone and Brandon Flynn), the series is consistently intriguing and thoroughly absorbing.

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Anthony BoyleApple TV+Hamish LinklaterLili TaylorLovie SimoneTobias Manzies

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