Movie Review: ‘Lincoln’
Plot: Corruption, scandal, infighting, bipartisan mudslinging…Politics will always be the same. Lincoln fights for what is right, even as the rest of the country is tearing itself apart at the seams, both in the House and on the battlefield.
I will admit that when I first saw trailers for this film that I had no intention of ever forcing myself to sit through it. Not only am I not a fan of war films in general, the Civil War in particular has never been of much interest to me, I prefer my history to be farther off involving foreign lands and myths. I will also admit that because of my historical bias I know little about Lincoln’s life other than that which was taught to me before visiting DC in 8th grade. Having said that I have always felt an emotional connection to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and his push to end slavery, it touches something pure and human inside me.
Although this film is languid, tedious at times and very wordy, it is necessarily so, for how can you possibly have a picture about the most loquacious man in history without him taking up nearly 2 hours on his own to speak. Daniel Day-Lewis is an Academy darling, I have only seen one other of his films, Gangs of New York, the kinds of pieces in which he tends to star just bore me so I don’t give them a chance. (By that I mean I don’t tend to watch high drama films meant to teach rather than necessarily entertain, I know kind of a contradiction for a History major) Well, all that may change now. I have seen countless depictions of Lincoln, though none of them capture the humanity, fragility and almost dementia of the man like Lewis. He is a frail man fighting a battle that seems impossible to win, and yet against all odd, against all counsel he pushes on telling tales that seem unimportant along the way. The amount of monologuing Lewis had to do in this film is astounding and I could think of no other actor who would have to time, patience or desire to do it. I never for a second looked at the screen and thought it was an actor, he was the president, he was Abraham Lincoln.
The supporting cast deserves just as much praise however, although I fear they can easily be brushed off. Tommy Lee Jones may be getting up there but he proves he hasn’t lost any of his talent or bite. I was surprised to see Joseph Gordon Levitt, Lee Pace, Jackie Earl Haley and James Spader, who was almost unrecognizable. The character actors we all know and love held their own as well, but honestly my favorite bit player was Spader as Bilbo (and not just because of my love for Tolkien). Although his moments can be written off as silly and unnecessary, he was able to bring such lightheartedness to a film that could have easily drowned in the depressing and quite boring aspects of voting on an amendment. When he has to convince others to vote Lincoln’s way it is actually hilarious but never goes campy, it is much-needed levity in a very heavy script.
I will say that the one actor who annoyed me to no end, and it may just be my dislike of her in general, is Sally Field. I may know little about Lincoln, but I know even less about his wife, but I could not stand her. She was obnoxious, harping and being shrill, but perhaps that is how she was meant to be, so perhaps I cannot fault Field.
As for the film in general, sure it is lengthy, but as I said it needed to be otherwise we would once again be short-changing history, which happens far too often with these kinds of films. Often we get the pop version of an event, whether it is the colorful Elizabeth which tied everything together far too neatly, or the inaccuracy of Braveheart which added things for dramatic effect, history tends to be forgotten in historic dramas. But this film wasn’t about a war, an assassination, or any major dramatic event in the normal sense, it was simply about a law. Law can be the most boring of subjects to capture on film, but it can also be the most engrossing, the most thrilling if done correctly, and this was done brilliantly. When they are doing the final vote, although we all know the outcome, I was still sitting there on the edge of my seat waiting for it to unfold. When the inevitable end came I will admit to tearing up and cheering, the way it was directed made something that could have been boring into a thrilling event just as powerful as any battle scene.
I cannot say this is a perfect film because at times it feels like it is patting itself on the back, showing us how much history it can tell us and how accurate it can be. We didn’t necessarily need to see Lincoln tell story after story, a good twenty minutes could have tightened the whole film up a bit. I will say however that I was surprised, I did not intend on enjoying it, did not intend really on ever seeing it but I am very happy I did.