'The Good Lord Bird' Trailer: Ethan Hawke brings manic energy to abolitionist John Brown in Showtime series

While historical accounts have known the abolitionist to be idealistic, aggressive, and religious, Ethan Hawke’s interpretation of Brown in this limited series is a thing of beauty


                            'The Good Lord Bird' Trailer: Ethan Hawke brings manic energy to abolitionist John Brown in Showtime series
Ethan Hawke (Screengrab/YouTube)

All other displays of weird manic energy on-screen are irrelevant now. Ethan Hawke in the trailer of Showtime’s semi-biographical limited series, ‘The Good Lord Bird’, is all that matters now. Till the end of time. 

The seven-episode series, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride, executive produced by Hawke, stars him as controversial abolitionist John Brown. A little history: Brown was a leading figure in the abolitionist movement in pre-Civil War U.S. and unlike other anti-slavery activists of that era, he believed in aggression as the only means against slaveholders and the entire institution of slavery in general.

He became involved in the abolitionist movement following the brutal murder of Presbyterian minister and anti-slavery activist Elijah P. Lovejoy in 1837. Brown was tried and executed for his literal war against slavery -- he did not see the institution end in his lifetime. 

While historical accounts have known him to be idealistic, aggressive, and religious, Ethan Hawke’s interpretation of Brown in this limited series is a thing of beauty. 

‘The Good Lord Bird’ is told from the point of view of Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a fictional enslaved boy who becomes a member of Brown’s motley crew of abolitionist soldiers during “Bleeding Kansas” -- skirmishes between pro- and anti-slavery forces that were part of Kansas' difficult transition to statehood. Onion eventually finds himself participating in the famous 1859 raid on the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry. 



 

The best way to describe Hawke’s rendition of Brown is one that was said by Onion in the trailer: “Whatever he believed, he believed. Didn’t matter if it was true or not. The old man was nuttier than squirrel t*rd.”

Yet another citation of Brown’s insanity was displayed in the trailer through the abolitionist activist Frederick Douglass (Daveed Diggs). Douglass pauses a speech midway and signals Brown to move away. “Lunatic,” Douglass says of the abolitionist.

The trailer is a bit of an adrenaline rush, as Hawke’s Brown shouts his proclamation of war against slavers with a kind of insanity that goes beyond the tone and tenor of his voice. It reaches his eyes. The swift cuts of the video, the unintentional humor, the music, and the general chaos of the whole thing may remind one immediately of Quentin Tarantino’s signature style, but really, it feels more and more like a Coen Brothers project the more you see it.

If the trailer is any indication, the miniseries will be an intense watch, and not just for Hawke’s performance. The series also stars Hubert Point-Du Jour, Nick Eversman, Mo Brings Plenty, Jack Alcott, Ellar Coltrane, Beau Knapp, David Morse, Steve Zahn, Maya Hawke, Wyatt Russell, and Orlando Jones.

‘The Good Lord Bird’ will premiere on Showtime on August 9.

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