(This is a repost of my review published on rhymeetreason.com on October 26th, 2012)
When one thinks of acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, images of extraterrestrials, ferocious dinosaurs, or the bloody beaches of Normandy may come to mind – but with his latest outing, Spielberg gives viewers a dramatic and gripping change of pace in this epic portrayal of America’s 16th President. Lincoln, written by decorated playwright Tony Kushner, is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s tireless campaign to pass the 13th amendment which would result in the abolishment of slavery.
Lincoln’s runtime checks in at a grand 150 minutes, and considering the closest you get to some action is a handful of heated exchanges between congressmen on the House floor, the film can seem to be a little exhausting. Much like a stage play, the film is extremely dialogue-heavy and character driven. If one thing can be definitively said about Lincoln, it is that it showcases some of the finest acting you will ever see. The sequences that unfold on the House floor are some of the most entertaining scenes in the film and provide a great look at some of the over-the-top comical banter that went on in Congress over 100 years ago.
Often times, cinematographers are overlooked when talking about the success of a film, but cinematographer Janusz Kaminski takes this film in such a beautiful direction, giving himself a great opportunity to collect his sixth Academy Award. The film’s often dull colors certainly fit with the times, and certainly fit with the brooding title character. Lincoln opens with a brief battle sequence, which Spielberg and Kaminski have always had a brilliant knack for filming, then cuts to a wonderful sequence of dialogue between Lincoln and two black soldiers complemented by heavy rainfall and moonlit fog. Kaminski’s track record is beyond stellar, as he has been the director of photography on the likes of Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and War Horse.
John Williams’ score is slow and methodical and is a perfect fit for most scenes, but does seem to be a little out of place in other scenes. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams received a nod from the Academy for Best Score.
While Lincoln’s lead man is the unbelievably talented, two-time Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis, the film also features an immense wealth of talent throughout. It seems as if even minor characters you see on screen make you say, “I’ve seen that actor before!”
Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t disappoint and delivers another Oscar worthy performance as Abraham Lincoln, and possesses an uncanny resemblance to his real life counterpart. A lot of people were concerned about the voice Spielberg and Day-Lewis chose in his portrayal of the character, but it fits like a glove. It is unclear as to why Spielberg and the studio chose the footage that they chose to include in the trailer, it didn’t come close to capturing Day-Lewis or the film’s essence. There are many moments in the film where the camera doesn’t even cut away from Lincoln during a lengthy monologue, allowing the viewer to really get a sense of how talented Day-Lewis is and how much he encapsulates the character. When Lincoln is on screen, it’s practically impossible to take your eyes away, as he delivers his lines in a wonderfully confident soft spoken manner. Some of the best moments of the movie come when we see Lincoln telling a humorous anecdote or insightful metaphor.
With the assumed many opportunities Lincoln will have to bring home some hardware, Tommy Lee Jones may be its best bet – in the Best Supporting Actor category. Jones plays Pennsylvania representative Thaddeus Stevens, who is passionate about the anti-slavery movement. Jones provides many of the film’s laughs and entertainment during his rousing bickering on the House floor. Sally Field also delivers a top notch performance as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. While she doesn’t quite steal the show, it would not be surprising if the Academy recognized her with a Best Supporting Actress nomination. The always reliable David Strathairn adds to the ensemble cast in a solid role as Secretary of State William Seward. John Hawkes, James Spader, and Tim Blake Nelson also provide stellar supporting performances as the comical lobbyists trying to sway the votes of select Democrats while trying to pass the 13th amendment.
With the abundance of talent seen throughout the Lincoln cast, it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who seems to get lost in the film. JGL plays Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert. While JGL definitely delivers when on screen, I found myself forgetting his character at certain points. Robert is a Harvard student who feels compelled to participate in the war and help his country. At one point, he proclaims that he would never be able to live with himself if he didn’t do something to help – it is in this scene where we see a gripping dynamic between father and son in Abraham and Robert. He is sent to be an assistant to Ulysses S. Grant, and it was then that I found myself forgetting that he was even sent into the military. If I had one complaint about the movie, it would be that there wasn’t enough character development for Robert.
Lincoln is an historical epic with great scope containing lessons to be learned by modern politicians. It is because of that, that Lincoln is poised to be a Best Picture nominee. Driven by brilliant performances, wonderful direction, and striking cinematography, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis – along with an all-star supporting cast – have teamed up to deliver us one of the better films of 2012, and one of the finer historical profiles in recent memory. If only modern American politics were nearly this entertaining.
[All images are copyright to DreamWorks Studios]
Posted on November 9, 2012, in Reviews and tagged Daniel Day-Lewis, DreamWorks, Film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lincoln, Movies, Reviews, Sally Field, Steven Spielberg, Tommy Lee Jones. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.