Film Review: Lincoln
by Matthew Durham
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has been talked about for some years now. When early photos of Daniel Day-Lewis appeared with him portraying the sixteenth president the inevitable buzz began. Last year we were graced with Spielberg’s action-adventure epic War Horse which received about 75% positive reviews. I liked War Horse, I liked that “Spielbergian” feeling that so many critics condemned. And while I can develop a whole defense case for War Horse, I would much rather talk about Lincoln which is really a pretty spectacular film.
My senior year of high school we had to write an Essay, which was a pretty important essay. In this case, we had to write it about a public figure of some sort. My deep interests in film lead my essay to be about Steven Spielberg, how he got into the industry and developed through the times. Some have called me a Spielberg apologist, but out of the many films he has done I haven’t really seen one that I hated. I didn’t like Hook, but I didn’t hate it.
I had the privilege of attending the screening of his newest opus which is the story of Abraham Lincoln and his struggle to abolish slavery and end the Civil War. I have said before that the skills of the director can only truly show in the film’s acting. This film has a handful of spectacular performances. Daniel Day-Lewis not only looks the part of Abraham Lincoln, but he makes it his own completely. People have argued about his accent, while other counter-argued that history tells us that his pitch was a little high. Truthfully, it was a couple centuries ago and that detail has probably been lost.
Regardless, you feel for the character’s struggles. Daniel Day-Lewis plays a president who is under an extreme amount of stress; not only against people who completely oppose his plan, but people in his Cabinet who disagree with his approach. Lewis’s character expresses defense mechanisms when attacked using metaphorical storytelling that interestingly works with the story rather well. If the real Abraham Lincoln told stories like this in times of stress. Who knows? But it works and it adds comedic effect.
I could go on and on about Lewis’ performance, it was great. The next all-stars would be Tommy Lee Jones who plays Thaddeus Stephens, who is a character I could literally watch all day. Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln, rumor has it that the woman was crazy, but Field goes beyond that portrayal into a woman who has been truly tormented by the war and how it has affected her family. David Strathairn is another pleasant character on-screen as the Secretary of Defense. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Lincoln’s son Robert very well, but with little screen time.
The cast is also filled with amazing subtle performances for small roles. John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and James Spader play three lawyers who help Lincoln to sway voter opinions. James Spader absolutely blew me away here, he’s out of his typecast completely and works perfectly. Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man plays a undecided voter very well, but another brief performance. Two other notable performances are Hal Holbrook and David Costabile.
But, Lincoln isn’t just a great film for its acting; the real star is the screenplay. This screenplay is absolutely fantastic, the dialogue is witty, quick and very intelligent. The film works like a play that opens up with some Civil War action, but we don’t see much more of it. Is it a History lesson? Yes. Definitely, but that doesn’t keep it from being incredibly entertaining.
In War Horse we got wide long-ranged shots of amazing production design, Lincoln is cursed with less opportunity. But, the film looks consistently easy on the eyes and believable for its time. I can see this movie sweeping Oscar nominations unless one of the unseen films of 2012 turns out to be a complete juggernaut.
All in all, Lincoln works. It works as a character study, a courtroom drama, a history lesson, and even more importantly a Spielberg film. Spielberg films are held to such high expectations that lately when one is released that meets them its an incredible thing. Lincoln is Spielberg’s film about abolishing slavery for african americans. Schindler’s List was Spielberg’s film about the Holocaust and saving Hebrews. The films are very similar where they stay consistent to their drama, with the exception of Lincoln offering some comic relief every now and then.
I would say Spielberg doesn’t have the same passion behind this film as he did with Schindler’s List, but the passion is definitely there. I will strongly recommend this film to everyone I know. It is an excellent film with tour-de-force performances from every damn actor and actress in it. Spielberg’s best film in the last decade, easily. One of the most entertaining movies of the year and also one of the smartest. Film-goers who are misled to believe this is a war-pic will or mind-numbing will not be satisfied. Go to this movie if you are ready to be engaged in the historical drama that encompasses one of the greatest moments of America’s History.
After seeing this film, it is amazing that we have an African American president. We have come so far, and this movie shows where it all started. This makes the movie timely which is another big plus.
Final Score: 4.5/5