Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lincoln: Movie Review

Reducing the impact by drawing out history with false sentimentality.

“Lincoln” focuses on the months leading up to the historical vote on the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to ban slavery. This is of course during the curtain call of the Civil War. This being a Steven Spielberg movie means that he has decided to frame the entire movie with war shots — just because he can, and probably because it adds a few million dollars more to the budget. The production design really was epically beautiful contrasting the closed in nature of the attempts to procure votes. 2012

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by: Tony Kushner
Based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, and Tommy Lee Jones

There are many elements of the overall film that have prompted some to declare it’s Spielberg’s best work. It’s also Spielberg’s most historically accurate film, too bad that doesn’t actually mean much. At the centre of the major debates is Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance of American President Abraham Lincoln. As crazy as his role preparation may be, I’m firmly on the side that this is the best and most accurate portrayal that we’ll ever see of Honest Abe. Day-Lewis’s approach with his soft-spoken mannerisms fits everything we know of the legend, and also manages to provide some subtle conflicts within the man found throughout the film.

The next most historically accurate part, and interestingly enough, the part which best holds our attention, is the vote itself. The screenplay is surprisingly simplistic but thorough and every Congressional representative, by name, has their vote heard. If that sounds long and drawn out, wait till you see the rest of the movie. Approaching three hours long, there is just too little substance.

Lincoln of course gets his famous monologues and a few lesser-known monologues but the problem is, so does everybody else. Every known actor playing an historical person (at least a dozen or more in the film) gets to deliver a really long, important speech — it just doesn’t mean anything. Tommy Lee Jones as House Representative Thaddeus Stevens arguably makes the most of his opportunities. But Spielberg doesn’t seem to mind throwing that out the window as we approach the end. Making everything more staged, more sentimental, more false.

All the good that the film does, particularly with the actual vote and in its attempts to be accurate, are all for naught as we get to the infamous ending. Make that endings. There are a number of places to end the film: The signing of the Amendment, former slaves appreciating their new freedom, or Lincoln leaving for Ford’s theatre to see “Our American Cousin”. Those would have been fine, other possibilities include: a repeat delivery of the Gettysburg Address, shots of the casualties of war, or the theatre curtains drawn back and a gun shot. Spielberg chose all of the above and more! Even including the news of Lincoln’s assassination being told to his youngest son. Blatant pandering to our emotions with false sentimentality has no place in films that should be going down in history.