Friday, November 23, 2012

Lincoln

Rumors of an Abraham Lincoln movie directed by Steven Spielberg reverberated throughout Hollywood for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t until recent years that it became a reality. Lincoln, a film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, is a biopic of the 16th president focusing on the last few months of his life, which is when he pushed hard to pass the 13th amendment.

As IMDb explains: “As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

As a history major in college, concentrating on American History, I was extremely excited to see this film. Throw in Spielberg as director and an all-star cast, and Lincoln the movie seemed destined for greatness. Unfortunately, I may have set my expectations too high, because I left the theater feeling a bit disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Lincoln was by no means bad, it just wasn’t all I thought it’d be.
At times it was slow, but that was to be expected from a biographical and historical drama. There was no significant action, most of the conflict existed in the House of Representatives, and the drama developed slowly. That was all fine and good, but to me the flow of the movie was just off. For instance, I felt the scale of time was poorly represented, with scenes often jumping from one geographical location to another with no regard for how long it’d take for such travel in that day and age. That was a small, nitpicky detail, but things like that do not go unnoticed and detract from the overall product. In other words, Lincoln was a little rough around the edges and not as polished as I'd come to expect from Spielberg.

The movie itself is dialogue driven, which means having the right cast is absolutely crucial. In that regard, Lincoln excelled. Daniel Day-Lewis is selective in his roles, coming out with a new movie every 2-3 years or so (his last one was 2009’s Nine, and before that 2007’s There Will Be Blood). Obviously the role of Lincoln, which originally went to Liam Neeson before he dropped out, was too good to pass up, and Day-Lewis nailed it. His portrayal of the historical icon was mesmerizing and he truly brought the character to life. It’s rare for an actor to be better known for his roles than his personal life, which I think is a testament to their ability, and Day-Lewis has certainly done it.

Furthermore, the supporting cast was as strong as I’ve ever seen, with solid performances all around. Sally Field, who had to fight tooth and nail for the role, made a great Mary Todd Lincoln (despite being 20 years older than her character was at the time), while Joseph Gordon-Levitt excelled as their son Robert Lincoln.

I also thought both David Strathairn and James Spader, who played William Seward and W.N. Bilbo respectively, did amazing jobs. The former helped drive the story as Lincoln’s Secretary of State and right-hand man, while the latter provided comic relief as a 13th-amendment vote getter. Other solid performances came courtesy of John Hawkes as Robert Latham; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair; and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant, just to name a few.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Many have praised his performances as the extreme abolitionist advocate, even suggesting he is a favorite for a Best-Supporting Actor Academy Award. I’ve never been shy about praising Jones (see my review ofHope Springs), but I have to admit he didn’t blow me away. He certainly did a satisfactory job, but I don’t agree his performance was remarkable.

I enjoyed Lincoln, but I wasn’t overly impressed. I had recently watched HBO’s miniseries John Adams, which is of a similar nature; however, in my opinion that film, starring Paul Giamatti as the second president of the United States, was both better done and more entertaining. Granted it had a whole miniseries to flesh out the story, but I’d be more prone to watch that again than Lincoln (which probably would have been better suited for a miniseries).

I’m glad I saw Lincoln, because it was a decent film—it just wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%

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