Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lincoln



I couldn’t pass up a free advance screening of Steven Spielberg’s new film, even if his last effort (War Horse) was disappointing. After all, as I’ve mentioned before, Spielberg has more films in my top 150 than any other director and that’s got to count for something. Even so, I went into the theatre with low expectations for Lincoln, my greatest fear being that a Spielberg/Disney collaboration, following the melodramatic War Horse, would idealize Lincoln as the great American hero who abolished slavery.

Well, thanks to my low expectations, I enjoyed Lincoln much more than I thought I would. My fear was well-deserved, because Lincoln was indeed idealized exactly as I feared he would be (though he was portrayed as somewhat manipulative), but Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Lincoln was so brilliantly flawless (surely this is a guaranteed Oscar nomination) that it was just a nonstop pleasure watching him work. And it wasn’t just Day-Lewis. Spielberg managed to assemble an incredible ensemble cast, featuring actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and many many more. This is a dialogue-heavy long film, so there are a lot of lines to spread around. I love dialogue-heavy films and the acting was uniformly excellent, so this was great fun.

Lincoln is in colour, but it's so desaturated, dark, grained, and bluish-brown that it almost feels black and white. No complaints. The cinematography seems perfectly suited to the subject matter. 

Lincoln takes place almost entirely in the month of January, 1865, during which Abraham Lincoln, in the last months of the Civil War, tries to get the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed through Congress. It will not be easy, with many obstacles to overcome, but the biggest threat he faces is peace. The Confederates have sent a delegation to negotiate a peace settlement which will make it almost impossible to get the amendment passed. What to do? 

The melodrama which plagued War Horse was occasionally evident in Lincoln though not nearly as blatant. But at least War Horse had an anti-war feel to it. Lincoln, while clearly depicting the horrors of war (like Saving Private Ryan), seems to suggest that no price is too high to pay for the abolition of slavery, for freedom! I do not share that sentiment. There are many things worth dying for, but nothing at all that’s worth killing for (IMHO), even freedom. I would argue that the legacy of the horrific Civil War has haunted the U.S. ever since. The use of violence always results in more violence. But enough with the sermon.

If Lincoln had engaged me more on an emotional level, I might have been tempted to give it four stars. It was clearly trying to make that engagement, but the whole process felt a little to neat and unimaginative, though on the whole I think the screenplay was very well done. A solid ***+. My mug is up.

1 comment:

  1. Certainly an interesting and well-made film that was engaging (for those with an interest in history). It's also incredibly frustrating for those, like myself, who find the machinations of politics inordinately stupid, but I guess we haven't found a much better system yet have we? The occasional humour helped it from becoming too dull, and I suppose that's also why they threw in the relational bits with his wife and children. Somehow, none of that family stuff worked well for me, though - all felt like deeply unfinished, unsatisfying glimpses into what seems to have been experienced largely as distractions for him during this period. I give it *** and hope that patriotism doesn't lead to a best pic Oscar.

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