Months after it was released state-side, Lincoln is finally released on this side of the Atlantic. How does Spielberg’s vision of Honest Abe hold up against previous screen incarnations, such as his excellent adventure with Bill & Ted, or when he hunted vampires? (Spoilers: there are no vampires, thankfully)
Steven Spielberg – Director
Tony Kushner – Screenplay
Daniel Day-Lewis – Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field – Mary Todd Lincoln
David Strathairn – William Seward
Tommy Lee Jones – Thaddeus Stevens
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Robert Lincoln
Hal Holbrook – Preston Blair
Jackie Earle Haley – Alexander Stephens
James Spader – W.N. Bilbo
Tim Blake Nelson – Richard Schell
John Hawkes – Robert Latham
Jared Harris – Ulysses S. Grant
It’s January 1865. The American Civil War is in a fourth bloody year, and as Abraham Lincoln is about to enter his second Presidential term he attempts to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery, while also trying to put an end to the bloody war tearing his country apart.
A few things to make clear up front: I am a huge Spielberg fan; I’m not going to get in to the politics of the politics of the movie; and not being American, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the historical specifics. With those things out of the way…this is a brilliant movie. Spielberg completes what could be called his Slavery Trilogy, and finishes it strong with this tale of a man determined to save his young nation. And Spielberg has a trio of talented men to help him. Daniel Day Lewis. Tony Kushner. Janusz Kaminski.
DANIEL DAY LEWIS IS ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Daniel Day Lewis IS Lincoln. His performance is so all encompassing that there isn’t even a hint of the actor, or that this is a performance. He breathes life into a legendary and complex man: a charismatic man, and born leader; a philosophical man; an eloquent man, and story teller; and a fiercely clever politician. He is a husband, and a father to two sons, and a nation. On top of all that is his struggle between ending a nation’s war, and ending a people’s enslavement. This task visibly weighs heavy on him, and this is depicted brilliantly on screen with Kaminski’s cinematography keeping him in shadows pretty much the entire movie.
The rest of the cast are all quite exceptional. While this cast is packed with talent, Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn deserve particular mention, both of whom do great work to not be completely over-shadowed by Lincoln’s towering presence. Sally Field is great too, alternating between supportive and destructive. There isn’t a single character that feels flat, with even the smallest roles filled by recognizable names or faces. You could play Spot “That Guy”, with faces from TV shows Breaking Bad, ER, Deadwood, The Shield, The Wire, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and a tonne of movies too.
A HEAVY MOVIE
This is a movie of words, not action, and the script, by Pulitzer Prize winning Kushner, does an amazing job of keeping it interesting. While this really only covers a month of his life, the script does a good job of explaining all that came before. The language is intelligent and compelling, and the drama is very well crafted, keeping you intrigued by the political machinations. This is a movie heavy with big ideas and big words, but there also a little levity too, mostly in the shape of Spader, Nelson and Hawkes, as well as Lincoln’s wonderful anecdotes and stories.
Right from the opening scene the tone is established brilliantly, with Lincoln talking to Civil War soldiers, two black and two white, discussing racial inequality, ending with the star-struck soldiers reciting the famous Gettysburg address. However, while there are a few grisly battle scenes, this movie primarily takes place in darkened rooms, and yet it all looks great. The camera moves slowly and deliberately, never afraid to just settle on Lincoln as he delivers another compelling monologue. The look of the movie is quite monochromatic in places, almost black and white. Lincoln himself is shrouded in darkness and shadows, and the sun is always eclipsed by objects and obstacles, hinting at the bright future just over the horizon. These are just a few clever visual moments created by Kaminski and Spielberg.
BOTTOM LINE: IMPERFECT, BUT GREAT
Just about everything in this movie is great. Just about. While the drama is compelling, the tension of the climactic vote is a little light, and the resolution lacks the emotional impact you would expect given the subject matter. Another failing is the final five minutes. This is a 150 minute movie, but only the last 5 should be cut, as it ends a little too Spielbergy. But these two minor flaws do not spoil the movie as a whole, or it’s impact.
So… this is a great movie, orchestrated by a master story-teller at the top of his game. It looks great. The story strong, and is very well told. And at the centre is a powerful portrayal of a great man.
DID YOU SEE THIS MOVIE? RATE IT!