Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

IMDb plot summary: As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn.

Wow. This year's nominees have all been pretty underwhelming for me thus far.

There's nothing really *wrong* with this movie. The writing's good. The acting's good. It's a solid story. But in the end, it felt like a biblical fiction novel. There's a whole genre of books out there that retell Bible stories as novels, so all your favorite Bible characters show up... and then they just calmly walk through the events, without fleshing out their character, creating any real sense of drama, or making me care at all about what's happening. I had the exact same feeling here: I knew I was *supposed* to care, but I never felt like I was watching an actual person, just a historical figure. Given Daniel Day-Lewis' great acting chops, Steven Spielberg's very personal directing style, and Tony Kushner's fantastic writing capabilities, I have no idea what went wrong for me here... but just a few hours after having watched it, I struggle to remember my reaction to it. 3 stars.

Flickchart: #1140 out of 1910, below Hustle & Flow and above Total Recall (1990).


Brittani Burnham said...

I liked this movie, but at the same time I'd never want to watch it again. I think the fact that I saw a 10:30pm showing had something to do with it. It just wasn't very exciting. Especially at that time of night. So I agree with you, great review!

Hannah M said...

Yeah, "not exciting" is a good description. It's all very mellow and it really shouldn't be.

Travis McClain said...

Part of it is that the film focuses exclusively on Lincoln's efforts to get the 19th Amendment passed and adopted. Though it's one of the most important parts of our legal code and growth as a society, actual legislating and deal-making isn't exactly the stuff of personal drama or high stakes excitement.

To that end, we did see some stuff about Abe and his wife but that for me was the worst part of the film. Sally Field came off to me as though she was playing a Mary Todd impersonator in an entirely different film from the one everyone else was making. It pained me to say it, but I hated her entire performance.

The big problem is that everyone the film focuses on is a white dude. Pardon the expression, but they had no "skin in the game". If slavery was abolished, great. If not, as long as the Union won the war, great. It didn't affect any of them in a compelling way because they were all playing with abstract concepts of justice and fairness while removed from having to actually live with what slavery meant.

There was the Congressman played by Tommy Lee Jones, but they withheld his interracial marriage for the very end. I don't understand that reasoning. By doing that, it became a too-cute coda. Were they afraid that if they put that into the film earlier that we would tune out everything he had to say? "Well, you just want slavery abolished because you have a black wife." Seriously, was that an actual concern in 2012? I certainly hope not!

There were some issues I took with unnecessary liberties taken with the historical record. For instance, there was a flap over the film showing representatives from Connecticut being split on the vote when, in fact, both of their real life counterparts voted for the Amendment. There was no reason whatsoever to play with the historical record on that. Just showing us a few examples of people who did vote for and against was sufficient for the narrative, and we have the entire record of who voted which way. Why not just tell it as it was, when there was no appreciable benefit to the story?

Likewise, I wish that Spielberg had followed Sofia Coppola's lead on Marie Antoinette and not given us the assassination at the very end of the film. It wasn't necessary. We all know what happened. The film relies on that knowledge, showing us just "the highlights". I'd have rather left with Lincoln watching the celebration of the passage of the amendment. So his assassination was shortly thereafter. Why show it? It wasn't part of the story at hand. The only way to incorporate it meaningfully would have been to have included a subplot of the conspiracy to assassinate him - which, of course, has already been done recently in film and in The History Channel's excellent Manhunt special.

These issues aside, though, Daniel Day-Lewis was so captivating as Lincoln that I couldn't help but to love the film. This was the closest I believe I'll ever get to watching or hearing Lincoln speak. Everything about him rang true to my understanding of our 16th President and it was a thrill to just watch him on the screen.