Friday, November 16, 2012

Is America Really Ready For Spielberg's Lincoln?


And so now it's time to talk about Lincoln.
Not the president, the movie.
Well, actually -- both. But first let's talk about the movie and in that context we'll get to the president.
Lincoln is the kind of movie David O. Selznick would have made years ago. It's the kind of movie Louis B. Mayer would have financed. It's the kind of movie every great Hollywood star of yesterday would have schemed to have even a small part in.
It's big. It's authentic. It's entertaining and enlightening. It's old-fashioned storytelling at its best.
And perhaps most of all, it's not preachy.
Based on a portion of the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln is written by Tony Kushner and is produced and directed by that modern-day Selznick, Steven Spielberg with music by John Williams.
It stars the great Daniel Day-Lewis (as Lincoln), Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Strathaim.
The story really centers around Lincoln's attempt to pass the 13th amendment, which granted freedom to the slaves. As the Civil War continues to rage (but nears an end) Lincoln struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield. At the same time, he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves. His unsteady relationship with the mercurial First Lady is also depicted along with his struggles with his son, Robert Todd Lincoln.
What we see here is the great weight of the presidency -- the burdens that fall on the man who inhabits the office; the selfish nature of presidential responsibility; the toll the job takes on one's family; the strains it places on friendships and yes, the incredible loneliness of the job.
And this is all transmitted with great, natural dexterity by Day-Lewis who depicts Lincoln as a sensitive, complex, disciplined leader who is altogether human but nonetheless admirable. He really inhabits the role in a manner that is nothing less than breathtaking. This is a complete, multi-layered performance that encompasses not just Lincoln's political astuteness but also his cultural awareness, well-timed sense of humor, natural understanding of the human condition and even his rather high-pitched, reedy voice.
Sally Field says she fought to play the role of Mary Todd Lincoln. In fact, she even tested for the role with Day-Lewis and once you see her in this role you will understand why she was chosen. The chemistry between the two is spot-on.
But here's the deal: Even the supporting players and minor roles in this film are well-cast and exceptionally well acted. So, both the leads as well as Jones and Holbrook have to be considered Oscar contenders.
Lincoln is full of new revelations for our time. Many 2012 movie-goers will be surprised to learn that Lincoln was a hard-nosed political power-broker and keen negotiator; that the Republican Party championed the abolitionist movement and that Republicans drove a hard bargain on this issue; that with a few critical exceptions Democrats were virtually intractable on slavery and that the Civil War might have ended sooner had a reasonable deal been struck.
Lincoln is grand, historical drama. But it's not a war movie. So, if you're looking for battle scenes, you won't find many here. Still, there is plenty of political battle and congressional intrigue. If you're a history buff, a political junkie, someone who loves America or just a fan of a well-spun tale that takes its time to unravel, this is the movie for you.
If you're looking for romance or lots of action or quick cuts and mayhem, Lincoln will disappoint you.
And that does make us wonder whether or not it will draw the kind of huge audience it surely deserves. Are today's moviegoers patient enough, sophisticated enough or knowledgeable enough to embrace this film. Indeed, do they even care? We're about to find out.
But give Spielberg credit. He has directed this film with with great skill and discipline. That's not to say that there aren't some twists and turns in the story. But this is for the most part a scene-by-scene narrative with all the richness and detail that we've come to expect from a Major Motion Picture. the director is true to his story, his subject and his characters.
One final thing: We all know how the story of Lincoln ends. There's no surprise there. But we think you will be surprised by the way the film handles the ending. We'll say no more.


Dan O. said...

Daniel Day, and the rest of the cast is just amazing, but the one who I was most taken-away from was Spielberg, who plays everything safe, intimate, and very subtle. Something I haven’t seen from the guy in awhile. Good review Dan.

mj loehrer said...

I appreciated the fact that the main and subordinate characters looked like their actual counterparts. Fantastic casting and make-up