Give a director a President, and you’ll get something of the filmmaker in return. Oliver Stone brewed paranoid tempests out of Nixon and JFK, and made wry fun of Dubya in W. Steven Spielberg, with his long-mooted look at the 16th and most hallowed of American Presidents, shows us the instinctive showman and restrained thinker. He and Abraham Lincoln have a lot in common.
With Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Obama-endorsed biography Team Of Rivals as his font, playwright Tony Kushner fashioned a 550-page script of Lincoln’s political life, only for his director to lop off the last 80 pages and narrow his aim. That decision is amongst the most inspired of Spielberg’s career — ditch the biopic’s hoary formula and encounter the man at the furnace door of crisis.
So no dirt-poor Kentucky childhood. No rise to greatness. No Gettysburg Address. And only isolated dispatches from the Civil War. The trappings of family occupy subplots where his eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rages to enlist — his father wants to shield him even as he sacrifices countless unknown sons — and his unstable wife Mary (Sally Field) exhausts him with her headaches and heartbreak, even as she turns a Rottweiler’s frown upon her husband’s opponents.
This is a film dedicated to the heated final months of Lincoln’s second term. Specifically, his attempts to get the 13th Amendment, banning slavery, passed by the House Of Representatives. And if that sounds dry and talky, it couldn’t be more thrilling... and talky. Lincoln knew the soul of a nation was at stake, and, unthinkably, dared to obstruct peace in the Civil War to get the bill passed.
In Kushner’s intricate script is a clinical understanding that if the bill was delayed in order for the South to return to the Union it might never be passed — slavery would continue. This, then, is a song to democracy at its most valuable: the biography of a political moment. Spielberg demands your concentration, but his film is not a slog; it is compelling, full of beauty, and overflowing with personality.
Thought has been placed into every line and shot, a fluid marriage of image and word where the camera speaks and the language springs to life. Much has been made of how restrained Spielberg is in his direction, but that belies the elaborate framing and the coffee-dark richness of design; how the light comes thickened with dust and tobacco smoke as if it somehow has substance. And the drawing of strident performances from the massive supporting cast.
To achieve his goal, Lincoln would use every means at his disposal: argument, persuasion, threat, bribery, a ready supply of salty parables, and in one sensational scene, sat about a smoke-shrouded table with his nettlesome cabinet, the exercise of titanic will. “I am clothed in awesome power,” Daniel Day-Lewis rails, his hand slamming the tabletop as passions well up. By fair means or foul, he will sway those wavering votes in the House where, in 1865, the persuasions of Democrat and Republican were the reverse of today.
Rather than buff up the legend, already carved into Mount Rushmore, Spielberg scrapes the surface to uncover a rough-hewn practicality. Idealism needs to twist a few arms, to wheedle, to get its way. Honest Abe could be a devious so-and-so.
Lincoln is often very funny. In near-slapstick mode, three oily operatives, led by a bounteously moustachioed and profane James Spader, are dispatched to romance or bully the inbetweeners. And no-one is having as much fun as Tommy Lee Jones, his face as immobile as a cliffside as the great Thaddeus Stevens, the radical emancipator convinced to set aside his all-or-nothing convictions. In “full froth” Stevens could reduce rivals to quivering wrecks, something noted of Mr. Jones by quivering interviewers.
Of anything, you catch a scent of the Coen brothers. Here is a meticulous American milieu where obstinate men with crazy facial hair hurl insults at one another in a baroque compendium of Twainian whimsy, Shakespearean oratory, Biblical commandment and the florid spin doctoring of the day, including the single greatest use of the word “nincompoop” in cinema history. Kushner nudges his director into satire, for what are politicians if not actors? What is the House if not a theatre? But the gravity is never in question. In a glimpse of a world beyond lamp-lit Washington, Lincoln inspects the devastation of Petersburg from horseback, a bitter panorama of violated bodies: there can be savage wrongs in doing the right thing.
Perhaps fittingly, the Anglo-Irish Day-Lewis has come to represent the schizoid heart of American history: as pioneer Hawkeye in The Last Of The Mohicans; wicked, flag-draped hood Butcher Bill in Gangs Of New York; soulless tycoon Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood; and now tin-voiced emancipator Lincoln. A peerless researcher, he stoops his neck and stiffens his limbs to create Lincoln’s reputedly wooden gait, as ungainly as RoboCop. His voice is wry and reedy and takes getting used to. He is a ruminative, elusive, half-smiling presence dressed like an undertaker, given to quoting Euclid and Hamlet at the drop of a stovepipe, and Spielberg veils him in shadow and crowns him in silvery halos. It is a shame the final, unnecessary five minutes feel the need to hastily re-sanctify Lincoln for a melodramatic sign-off, for this is a micro-study in restraint: the neat concentration of a staggering man, and Day-Lewis maintains a tantalising balancing act between flesh and marble. Our first sight of him finds Lincoln with his back to us, sitting before a bandstand, an echo of the memorial to come, listening as black soldiers pointedly recite his Gettysburg lines back to him — the message is radiantly clear: live up to your words.
Verdict As unexpected as it is intelligent, thanks to virtuoso work from Spielberg and Kushner, Lincoln is landmark filmmaking, while Day-Lewis is so authentic he pulls off that stovepipe.
Funny how this movie was downgraded to 4 stars in the DVD-review section of Empire. Has it become less good 4 months later?
st say, I was confused about that myself. They didn't even give any explanation for it, nor did they mention any negatives about the movie. ... More
Well, the comments about this being a rather boring movie are at least a little more refreshing than the usual complaints about Spielberg.
Yes, some will be bored by this film - it is definitely not for light viewing. However, those with patience who'll pay close attention will be rewarded with a damn great movie. I would also highly recommend repeat viewings to fully soak it all in. And trust me, it is worth it, as Lincoln is a magnificent achievement in almost every department - the perf... More
Probably the most boring Film I have EVER seen in the Cinema, and one of the longest too, and I cannot imagine watching this on DVD at home. Good luck to anyone that has the patience to wallow through this one........ ... More
Does Lewis is the reincarnation of Lincoln? It is?
That's what happened, Steven Spielberg asked Robert Zemeckis to borrow him the car of Dr. Emmett, went back in time by 5 minutes before the death of Abraham Lincoln and brought him to the present and asked him to act as himself in the days before the 13th amendment been aproved... that's what happened (just kidding)!
"Lincoln" from start to finish is fantastic, the characters and the story are in the greatest perfection, Tony Kushner should have made a very careful study to present th... More
Interesting how a thread about Lincoln descends into a three-way granny handbagging shot put trial. Although that's life imitating art imitating life considering the film features a number of scenes where opposing senators heckle and harangue each other. Which incidentally leads into where I'll start on the film: the verbal jousting. Some of the best scenes for me were the verbal tussles between Thaddeus Stevens and Fernando Wood. Now one can easily be forgiven for thinking that this was the di... More
After a bloody opening, a typical Spielberg moment occurs it’s awkward and rings false. Two black soldiers stand before the President and by the scenes end one of the soldiers is relaying the Gettysburg address back to the seated icon. John Williams score rises. Thankfully these moments are few and far between.
Its January 1865 two months have passed since Lincoln’s re-election and the civil war has been going for four years. The film focuses on the passing of the thirteenth amendment to ... More
Of all the films to cause a forum meltdown, I really had Lincoln pegged as the least likely.
magine what would happen if Lincoln turned up in a Batman film...
i]Lincoln even have the gunbarrel end ... More
Wot, no vampires?
As a sequel to Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Lincoln But as lovingly crafted, machine-tooled Oscar-bait, it’s a triumph. Even if it didn’t turn out to be quite the Oscar-hoover many expected – ]’s good, but it’s not this good.
Based on Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s mighty Lincoln biography, Rivalsielberg’s insistence, Tony Kushner’s epic script focuses on the final months of Lincoln’s life which saw the end of the Civil War and the passing of the 13th Amendment which abolishe... More
So, it's not 5 stars - that would need a whole lot more Jackie Earle Haley screentime than given here. But it's never boring. It's not epic, but the narrative is a good old-fashioned race against time. The whole thing about getting the 13th amendment vote BEFORE ending the war was tricky to grasp, even with the legal explaination given. But that made it feel deeper. There was a bit more comedy from the supporting characters than expected, and JGL's son character seemed a bit crow-barred in, but ... More
e for the Tammany Hall hucksters.”We aren’t Yanks. We aren’t US history buffs. Heck, we haven’t even possessed a passing interest in purchasing an M60 machine gun and screaming “Yippiekiyay!” as we gun down a bunch of innocent college students milling around their lockers. Honestly, we couldn’t tell you the ins or outs of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in any great detail, aside from what we’ve seen in popular culture and the occasional documentary. From what we’ve managed to piece together... More
I don't really know if this is a good, bad or ugly film. Everything is just swept aside by Daniel Day Lewis. He is fantastic and worth the admission on his own. Everybody else is merely good, even Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon Levitt. (It seems to be compulsory to have three names to get in this film).
One major bugbear for me. The film ends twice. Once at a natural and elegant place, and then at the clunky SS ending. Somebody should teach him how to say 'its a wrap', as this is not his f... More
I think the acting is superb in this film, but ultimately the film itself is really boring. I think if you are a patriotic American this would be a great film, for someone else, i.e. me (English), watching it as a neutral to find out more about history, it is overlong and just too wordy. ... More
'Lincoln' is a rare film where skillful narration, pithy writing & magnetic performance resonates on each and other raise the film as well as the audience to a high level of energy.Read my detailed review here:http://www.filmwaves.in/2013/02/lincoln.html ... More
I came across this in another thread last night.
I have no idea who that is ing twitter in any argument ever, isn't gonna earn you any points't dislike Community like you dislike Who. I just think it's flawed. And Alison Brie is no Kelly Kapowski!
Anyway, moving on.
Self awareness fail ... More
All of the performances are outstanding, but the film loses much-needed power in dawdling. The second film this year with an engaging start, a spectacular end, and a dialogue-heavy mid-section that had willing the plot along.
That said, it's so worthy of my/your time that it's entirely forgivable. ... More
You're just being deliberately antagonistic now! Your twitter post was one person's opinion, and so I posed someone else's opinion. Anyway good night gentleman. Continue to be pretentious and enjoy snoozefest films that critics tell you to like. LOL! So easy to wind up.
You call me antagonistic and then admit that you're deliberately on the wind up. Brilliant.
ell, I wasn't. But I a... More
You and Adam should start up another site that no one visits.
ranted, while it's no SCLeeonline.com, my site has consistently done well for a couple of years now. Our audience has always been a niche one, and that's clearly the intention, but we receive enough visitors per month to stand us in good stead with the distributors whose work we admire and support, and enough to keep the thing afloat financially.
I'm not quite sure what this has to do with this thread t... More
Such a great way to answer sir. My intellect is too low to handle such a wise intellect like yours, so I'll bow out.
inally, I thought you were gonna bore me to death. No wonder you like Tree of Life. #filmsnob #pretentious
Btw, no idea what Adam is talking about below. Never heard of that website. And I don't actually have twitter... ... More
I know Zero Dark Thiry is overrated because I saw Bret Easton Ellis' tweets of it. He wrote American Psycho so he cannot be wrong.
nother film that's most likely terrible. Give me Point Break any day ote]
I know right. I know because I saw tweets of it and now I'm the Buddha.
Btw, isn't admitting being a wind-up merchant a sure way to get you a warning or a temp-ban?
ou should read Adam's reviews! YES! Now we'r... More