Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lincoln Review

I have been following Lincoln for too many years to remember…even back when Liam Neeson was set to play the titular president.  My excitement for the film built over these years, but perhaps lead to a bit of over-anticipation on my part.  After waiting so long I was ultimately left feeling cold, with incredibly mixed feelings about the final product.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I wasn’t watching Daniel Day-Lewis, I was actually watching Abraham Lincoln himself.  Somehow, Spielberg built a time machine and went back and got him for this film.  Day-Lewis wholly embodies the character (he was apparently going method with this one) and seemingly becomes the President.  His portrayal gives us a glimpse into the great orator that Lincoln truly was.  Several times throughout the film Lincoln stops to tell a story to a group of people.  They’re incredibly funny (as is quite a bit more of the film than I anticipated) and usually poignant to what is actually happening in the film or to add some levity.  These moments may come across as a bit cheesy but I absolutely loved every single one of them.  I was just in awe of Day-Lewis and his mastery of the art of acting.  Please, just don’t even nominate anyone else and just this guy the Oscar.

Right up there with Day-Lewis is the fantastic Tommy Lee Jones.  Jones deserves the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Thaddeus Stevens.  His role isn’t quite a flashy as Day-Lewis, but he plays Stevens with a quiet reserve that boils over when it needs to.  Most of the rest of the cast puts in fine turns: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln, David Strathairn as William Seward and Jackie Earle Haley (with what little screen time he actually has) as Alexander Stephens.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Now, I fully understand that Mary wasn’t necessarily the most sane person in the world and that she had some mental issues, but I can’t help but feel that Field is just a bit over-the-top with her portrayal.  Every time she came on screen I just wanted her to edited out and let Day-Lewis just talk to nothing.  I absolutely love Lee Pace, the pie maker from the ill-fated Pushing Daisies, but in this film he’s a bit of a one-note bad guy who likes to yell all the time.  Same goes for Jared Harris; I adored him in Mad Men and in his smaller roles like in Benjamin Button, but here is was quite evident that he was trying his hardest to not speak in his native accent.  It just seemed painfully evident that he was straining to maintain his American accent for the few scenes he was actually in.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting going into a film called Lincoln.  For some reason I was hoping for something a little closer to War Horse in terms of actual military action – Horse is a drama through-and-through, but there a few scenes of warfare that are gripping and just fantastic.  Lincoln, on the other hand, features one scene of combat that I can recall and it lasted for all of thirty seconds.  This isn’t a story about the war itself, but about the passing of the 13th Amendment – to abolish slavery.  The entire run-time is devoted to Lincoln’s pursuit of this Amendment and the back-door dealings and dirty politics being played to support its passage.

After I came to accept what I wouldn’t be getting from Lincoln, I settled in and began to appreciate the story unfolding before me.  Some levity is introduced with  the characters W.N. Bilbo (James Spader) and Robert Latham (John Hawkes), who conduct the President’s dirty dealings for him with their pursuit of nabbing Democratic votes to help pass the amendment.  And despite knowing how the scene was going to play out, the actual voting on the Amendment is one of the more gripping and intense scenes of the year…and it’s just one man reading names and hearing how they voted.

One story thread that could’ve been excised wholly was Robert Lincoln (Levitt) wanting to enlist in the army.  Abe is fully against this and rebuffs his son’s attempts to persuade him several times until he storms off after a fight the two have.  The next time we see Robert, he’s with Harris’ General Grant.  His character and the plot line didn’t add that much to the film, besides showing us that Lincoln held the abolition of slavery over ending the war.  That idea was harped upon enough in the film that we didn’t need this blatant attempt to shove it down our throats even more.

I also take umbrage with the film’s final moments.  Probably 100% of Americans know that Abe was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while enjoying a play.  Lincoln decides to show us his son, Tad, hearing the news of his father’s assassination attempt at a different theater.  We are then shown Abe dying amongst his friends and supporters, fading into a speech to wrap up the film.  This felt somewhat jarring and unnecessary.  We all know how this story ends – Spielberg didn’t need to actually show us.  There is a scene just before we see his son’s reaction that would’ve been absolutely perfect to end on.  Abe is walking down a hallway in the White House after leaving a post-Amendment-win discussion.  We all know where he’s going; there was a bit of dialogue about Mary being upset when he’s late for things.  It would’ve been perfect to fade from him walking down the hallway to the final speech at the end.  Showing his son’s reaction and then his subsequent death seemed utterly unnecessary.

I’m not quite sure I can fully pinpoint why Lincoln didn’t resonate with me.  I just felt cold; like I was being kept at a distance during the entire film.  Individual parts drew me in and blew my mind (namely Day-Lewis’ performance) and the film as a whole just didn’t gel for me.  Perhaps upon repeat viewings, having thrown away previous expectations, I can appreciate this latest Spielbergian effort.  In the meantime I’ll just go back to War Horse..

Lincoln is an incredibly well-made and-acted period drama that ultimately left me wanting.

The Bearded Bullet.

No comments:

Post a Comment