Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson and Jared Harris
The Plot: Set during the last days of the Civil War, and the first few months of Abraham Lincoln’s second term as President, Lincoln is about the push to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Congress. Which turns out to be a battle every bit as nasty, and ferocious as the war between states.
The Film: Fair warning patriots, Lincoln only really visits the bloody battlefields and trenches of the Civil War for a few brief scenes during the movie. It opens with a skirmish, but during the rest of the movie the conflict only looms as atmosphere surrounding the events of Abraham Lincoln’s first few months in his second term as President.
In one memorable scene Abraham Lincoln takes his son Robert, (Jospeh Gordon-Levitt finding a comfortable den in a film absolutely jam-packed with thrice-named acting talent, hyphens included) to visit a veterans hospital as a way to discourage his son out of signing up for the military. Robert refuses to follow his father into the hospital – he knows what his cagey old man is up to – and instead follows two Union soldiers hauling a covered wheelbarrow out of the building. The two soldiers reach their destination, remove the greasy blanket covering their cargo, and dump a pile of amputated human chum – arms, hands, legs, feet – into a pit filled with the same.
Along with the opening minutes of the movie this is Spielberg’s only nod to the horror of the war. It’s not a subtle way to make a point.
The rest of Lincoln is about the horror of politics. If that doesn’t sound like the film you’re ready to sign up to see this weekend – especially after this week’s national political maelstrom – I’d urge you to rethink your decision.
Lincoln’s a great film. And if you’ve trudged through Steven Spielberg’s recent compilation of – let’s be honest, mediocre – film productions, (we’ll excuse little Tin Tin, he was fantastic) you’ll realize that that’s saying something significant.
Lincoln is good Spielberg. It might even be great Spielberg. This is the Steven Spielberg who takes risks and ignores the probability of rewards. (or better stated… Awards)
There are Spielberg moments in the film – sometimes the man can’t help himself. There’s a late act reveal about Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones – laying his hammer hand down in this one) that feels like the long hands of bathos reaching in to strangle a film that, up until that point, was humming along honestly.
There’s a vague aloofness toward race relations in Lincoln. The guys that want equal rights for slaves don’t genuinely know the people they’re fighting to free, they just understand that they’re human beings. The other party believe that they’re property. Thaddeus Stevens – great character though he may be – is Spielberg’s one vehicle for modern attitudes toward race relations. It doesn’t hurt the picture, in fact, it’s a nice thought – most of Steven’s flourishes are usually nice thoughts – but it doesn’t piece together well with the detached demeanor of the film.
As for the end of Lincoln? Spielberg lets that run on five or six minutes after he absolutely nailed the ending. This isn’t Private Ryan weeping in a French military cemetery excess – but it knocks a few points off the ending of a perfectly great film.
The rest of Lincoln is riveting stuff. Who’s prepared for legislation and house debates to be riveting? They can be. Just find the right actors and write one hell of an innovative script.
The strength of Lincoln is in its performances. Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones have nearly flawless executions in this film.
Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln is something we haven’t seen yet from this actor. If you can look past the veil of weighted thought, empathy, and the sweet and honest grace of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln and find Bill the Butcher, or Daniel Plainview, you’ve got better eyes than mine. Lewis has always been able to disappear into a character, with his take on Lincoln, the actor is absolutely camouflaged in the role. If this one (perfect) performance can get you in the door of this new Spielberg film, please consider your money well-spent this weekend.
Throw in terrific performances by Tommy Lee Jones, (who can stand eye-to-eye with Daniel Lewis’s Lincoln and hold every inch of his own) Sally Field, and Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, and James Spader playing a merry trio of congressional scalp hunters for Abe Lincoln’s struggling 13th Amendment, and you literally have one of the best cast films of 2012.
Lincoln is a film rich in the texture and color of the period. There’s a scene in the movie where Abraham Lincoln is telling a roomful of his anxious security staff as they wait on news from the war-front a story about Ethan Allen, a snotty room of Englishmen, and a portrait of George Washington that might be some of the best stuff anyone has put on film this year.
The Verdict: It’s Black Friday at the movie houses this weekend. If you can’t get into Skyfall I completely encourage you to try out Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Lincoln is the best thing to happen to Spielberg’s filmography since 2005’s Munich. The performances are completely gorgeous, and the eye for detail sharp, but it’s literally Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as the 16th American President that should make those long lines at Skyfall unworthy of your consideration and patience. Do not miss this film.
Like you’re not going to see Skyfall anyway…. here’s my take on the new Sam Mendes movie.