‘Manhunt’ struggles to find the drama in Apple’s Lincoln-assassination thriller

‘Manhunt’ struggles to find the drama in Apple’s Lincoln-assassination thriller - Opinion and Analysis - News

A Historical Thriller That Fails to Deliver: An In-Depth Analysis of Apple TV+’s “Manhunt”

The premise of “Manhunt,” the latest historical thriller series on Apple TV+, may sound intriguing at first glance. However, this seven-episode series about the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln mostly falls short of expectations.

Adapted from James L. Swanson’s bestselling book, the show primarily focuses on two key characters: Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies), Lincoln’s Secretary of War, who took charge following his boss’ demise while grappling with guilt for not being present at the time of the assassination; and Booth (Anthony Boyle), the assassin, who managed to evade capture despite an injured leg due to a network of confederates.

The narrative weaves between these two characters, incorporating flashbacks to provide context and build momentum. However, the structure often feels disjointed and lacks the narrative drive suggested by its title, instead landing in a no-man’s land between politics and true crime.

Edwin Stanton’s storyline includes glimpses of the prosecution of the Civil War and his relationship with Lincoln, as on-screen graphics remind us of the countdown to the fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. The portrayal of Booth’s journey takes him to various locations, including Samuel Mudd’s house (Matt Walsh), where the infamous doctor offered aid. The fame Booth enjoyed as an actor, even in the pre-screen era, aided his escape but also posed challenges.

While “Manhunt” attempts to enrich the story by exploring the actions of peripheral players, the structure fails to maintain dramatic tension. Stanton’s role as a detective leading the hunt for Booth feels forced and unconvincing despite Menzies’ impressive performance.

The biggest drawback is that none of the characters truly engage the viewer, particularly Booth, who, despite Boyle’s excellent portrayal, seems less complex than his flamboyant mustache.

“Manhunt” starts off stronger than it finishes, excelling in depicting the chaos following Lincoln’s assassination and the political aftermath. Stanton’s task of assuming control amidst a lack of faith or respect for Vice President Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower), who reacted to the news by getting drunk, adds an intriguing layer of complexity.

However, despite its classy credentials and promising premise, “Manhunt” fails to fully take flight, reflecting Apple’s even more splashy World War II series “Masters of the Air.”

In conclusion, while it would be nice to wholeheartedly endorse this ambitious project, doing so wouldn’t do justice to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. “Manhunt” premieres on Apple TV+ on March 15. (Disclosure: The author’s wife works for a division of Apple.)