LINCOLN Film Review

lincoln-2012-001-daniel-day-lewis
Posted on: January 24th, 2013

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Daniel Day-LewisSally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake-Nelson

Synopsis:

Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final months in office.

In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.

 

 

Lincoln Film Review

He’s a funny one Steven Spielberg. A long established Auteur; arguably the most well known director in cinema history; Certainly the most well known director alive. Some say he is the greatest ever; and yet I was hard pressed to think of a movie of his I’ve enjoyed in the last decade and a half.

Sure, I appreciated a couple of them, but its not the same thing. For my money, he’s hard to beat when it comes to fantasy, sci-fi or anything he can add that sense of wonder to that was once his sole stock and trade; but that’s long since stopped being the whole story. He has, since making Schindler’s List, become equally known and lauded for his ability to create powerful and genuinely affecting Cinema.

From the uncomfortable and unflinching horror of the aforementioned to the all-too-realistic human carnage of the Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan; few living directors have that same knack for burning (sometimes unwelcome) images into the brain of the viewer. And thats the thing; you cannot help but appreciate the mastery he has over these kinds of story, but to enjoy it is, for this reviewer anyway, not necessarily the same thing. (If you watch the first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and think to yourself “Golly, I completely enjoyed that” there is something wrong with you and you should only be allowed to use plastic cutlery in the future).

“Lincoln” struck me as that side of Spielberg at work. It had to be, since “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” had beaten him to the daftness punch and forced him to play it straight; and who better to help The Greatest Living Director do that than The Greatest Living Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis.

 

Lets just get this out of the way, as though there would be some doubt. Day-Lewis is, once again, brilliant. For me he was Abraham Lincoln as I had always imagined him. Dignified, yet dishevelled. Driven, yet world-weary. Charismatic, yet with a head on ‘im like a well chewed Wham bar, but most of all, compelling. Whether it be addressing a crowd or having an informal chat with front line Union troops, Day-Lewis proves he is up to the task of portraying a man widely held to be one of, if not the greatest orator in the history of modern civilization.

That said, one of “Lincoln”s great successes is to manage not to be just Daniel Day Lewis and a bunch of other guys there to set his lines up for him. It is brilliantly cast; Tommy Lee-Jones in particular is excellent as the curmudgeonly (Tommy Lee- Jones? Curmudgeonly? Get right outta town!) abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Other standouts included an against-type James Spader as William N. Bilbo (Willie Bilbo. Great name for a spiv. ) Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens and Tim Blake-Nelson as Republican Lobbyist Richard Schell.

Spader in particular is worthy of note both for his supporting performance and for his absolutely powerful moustache; which renders him nigh on unrecognizable. And while we’re on the subject of facial hair EVERY SINGLE MALE over the age of 35 in this movie could pass for a for one of The Grateful Dead. See for yourself! Then make offerings unto me for my rightness. I have recently started watching Parks and Recreation (The show, mind!) and have thus concluded that a good beard or moustache is like a sword, shield, or bag full of thine enemy’s heads was to our ancestors. Without it, you might as well be a milkmaid. In these terms “Lincoln” is damn near perfect.

 

It isn’t perfect though. Despite some fine performances; Two of which at the very least deserve to have someone mutter the word “Oscar”, an attention to detail typical of the Director, and a script for the most part worthy of its subject (write a script detailing the defining months of a man whose eloquence is still legendary today, as he goes about the task of attempting to pretty much change the world? Daunting.) something is still missing.

It might be that, beat for beat, you can read this story on wikipedia. Or in the library. Or in the library 100 years ago. No alarms or surprises to be had here at all. It’s a good story; of that there is no doubt. Its an important and significant story; That men had to fight against others who were prepared to die for the right to treat human beings as property seems absurd to us now, but such a fight did take place, and the story of its winning is told here in great detail.

That victory and its tragic backlash on its leader though, are all too familiar to us. That Spielberg and the cast manage to create any significant dramatic tension at all (and they do) is a credit to both when their audience already knows the ending. That is an achievement in itself, and as petty as it may be to criticize Lincoln as a whole on the strength of simply that, it was a distraction that seemed to just linger when all I wanted to do was enjoy a nearly perfectly made movie about one of history’s genuine good guys dragging his countrymen, some of them kicking and screaming at the thought, into a more enlightened time. You’ll want him to succeed; but you already know that he did. Then, you’ll want him to live happily ever after and retire to a vineyard somewhere because you like him; but you already know that he won’t.

 

 

I know that is a strange criticism to make when referring to a Historical Drama or a biopic. From another director, even a very talented director, I don’t think it would even be an issue. But from Steven Spielberg, I hoped for more. I watched Schindlers List already familiar with the story, even though granted I knew very little about Oskar Schindler himself; but I’ve never forgotten it, despite never having been able to bring myself to watch it since.

I knew the Allied forces took the beach at Normandy; I’d known that since I was a child. Still wasn’t prepared for Saving Private Ryan though. I haven’t watched that again since either. Spielberg can give history that kind of impact as a director. Make no mistake, Lincoln is compelling and even though it errs on the side of olde timey courtroom drama on occasion, Its well paced enough that it never seems to drag its feet. But it’s the cast that make this a very good movie, and the director who stops it short of being a great one; at least by his own standards.

4/5

 

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