Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: "Lincoln"

One would think that Lincoln has an awful lot going for it. A two-time Academy Award winning actor. A beloved American president. And a cherished American director. But really, Lincoln is just another over-stuffed and over-long Steven Spielberg film. I am not even sure if I liked it more than War Horse, which was definitely was of my least satisfying cinema experiences last year. The only thing about Lincoln which makes it worth seeing is the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. It is not grandiose like Daniel Plainview in 2007's There Will Be Blood, but that is because Abraham Lincoln was a more soft-spoken man. Unfortunately, while Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is phenomenal, it just does not seem to be grand enough to win an Oscar. Like Amy Adams in The Master, there is not a scene in Lincoln where Daniel Day-Lewis makes me marvel at his mastery. But I am positive he was the right choice for the role. The same cannot be said for Sally Field of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I think both actors were done in by the weight of their roles. Sally Field's Mary Todd Lincoln was as grating a First Lady as I have ever seen on film. And I am also getting sick of David Strathairn as the apparent voice of reason on screen. These choices just seem too cliched, which is what I would expect from Steven Spielberg. When was his last great film? Can we say Munich (2005), or do we have to go back to Saving Private Ryan (1998), which were both Oscar nominated? I think we should just throw Spielberg into a room with Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Kevin Costner. Lincoln is a long and demanding film to watch. At nearly two and a half hours, it is at least forty-five minutes too long. Daniel Day-Lewis' superior acting cannot make Lincoln an enjoyable film to watch. There is something all too conceited about Steven Spielberg's direction that turns me off (and I think the man snoring behind me in the theatre agreed!).

In January 1865 Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) had just won his second term as President of the United States. The country was also four years into the Civil War, between the Union North and the Confederate South. He was trying to get the United States House of Representatives to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which would formally abolish slavery in the United States. Lincoln believes it is important to pass the Thirteenth Amendment before ending the war. Along with his Secretary of State William Seward (Strathairn), it is believed that Lincoln and the Republican Party are twenty votes short of passing the amendment. Lincoln needs the help of Francis Preston Blair (Hal Hollbrook), founder of the Republican Party, who believes that peace must be settled first. In the House, there is a contentious debate between Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and members of the Democratic Party. Lincoln refuses to pay members of the Democratic Party to vote for him (as he believes all members of his Republican Party will vote on his side), but Seward does hire men to speak to various Democrats with offers if they vote against their party. At home, Lincoln is troubled by the return of his eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (Gordon-Levitt). Robert wants desperately to join the army, but Mary Todd Lincoln (Field) will not allow her husband to allow their son to fight for what he believes in.

After War Horse, Lincoln is exactly the kind of film I would have expected Steven Spielberg to make. It is the same kind of wartime, sweeping epic that had been so successful in the past. Spielberg's most renowned and acclaimed film, Schindler's List, was nearly 20 years ago. And he is not a visionary director, like he once was. He is no longer fresh or innovative. Let's think about why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was such a disappointment. After Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln was a bit too bipolar for me. It it a film about Lincoln's role in the Thirteenth Amendment? Is it about Lincoln's relationship with his wife? Or is it a film about Lincoln's relationship with his son? The three narratives did not work altogether in a cohesive balance. Early on at the theatre I noticed a man snoring behind me. At the beginning of the film I was practically asleep. And at the end, too. There was a shot that was perfect for the ending, and yet the film rolled on. It was not an autobiography, and for that reason a hospital scene after his assassination seemed ill-fitting. Congratulations if Daniel Day-Lewis wins an Oscar for his performance, but I will be outraged if Lincoln is nominated.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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