Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Joseph-Gordon Levitt
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Release Date: November 9, 2012
PLOT: As the Civil War continues, President Lincoln (Day-Lewis) struggles to emancipate the slaves with ratifying the 13th Amendment.
WHO’S IT FOR? History nerds, those who love big Hollywood dramas, and those who want to see Day-Lewis do anything will enjoy Lincoln.
“I’ve got a story to tell you, and that story will have something to do with the situation at hand.” That’s Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln in a nutshell. I assume it’s pretty close to the real man’s persona, just as I assume (as we all will) that the insanely talented Daniel Day-Lewis is doing a dead-on impression of the man.
Before we get to the rest of my review, I have a rant that has little to do with the actual film’s product. I really feel the poster and title are misleading. This isn’t a story about Lincoln’s life, just like Ali really only captured a moment in time of Muhammad Ali’s. But even beyond that, this film is more a showing of the politics of our young nation, and one of the most importance moments that shaped our nation, instead of just one man.
Better titles for this film:
The 13th Amendment
Lincoln’s Last Stand
Beards and Mustaches Argue (my personal favorite)
That’s the end of my rant. Let’s get back to all of the good this film has to offer. This is an amazing ensemble, which includes Field, Strathairn, Jones, Spader, Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace and Jared Harris. Great film and TV actors unite! For most of the film, it feels like this works in two parts. One part is this ensemble, playing off of each other with comic delight. The other part of the film is Day-Lewis. He mainly tells stories or interacts with Strathairn and Field. Not surprisingly, you can’t take your eyes off of Day-Lewis as Lincoln. I have an assumption that Day-Lewis gives his all to a role, and when you watch him walk, there’s the proof. I’ve never met Lincoln, but now, without a shadow of a doubt, I know that he walks with a small shuffle with his left leg and a bigger lift with his right leg. That’s effort that I love to see on the big screen.
While I was always curious with the story, and even felt a little suspense (though we all know the eventual results), Lincoln does lack emotion. Gordon-Levitt plays Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, who is desperate to serve in the war and impress his ignoring father. Every single scene with him feels forced into the film and leans on melodrama. I wonder if Robert is more upset at Abraham, or if Gordon-Levitt is more upset at Spielberg for barely using him (effectively) in the movie. Also, if a memorable real-life character ever talks about how history will remember them, that moment is a film failure. I don’t want Mary Todd wondering how she’ll be examined years from now. It’s too smug and self-aware. Once you get past Lincoln’s family (including his precious youngest son) there is a really enjoyable film. Jolts of Jones and Spader continue to keep the movie alive, and surprisingly funny. The court rooms, behind the table dealings, and ethical stands all ring true for the 1860s and even today. In addition, the language of the film is lovely. It’s like poetry. Though I have to admit, just like poetry it’s easy to fade out with some of the longer speeches.
For us, fighting against slavery is an obvious battle. It’s the only thing that makes sense. While Spielberg captures a time, Day-Lewis captures another brilliant performance, and some of the supporting actors may capture Oscar nominations, the film didn’t capture my soul the way I was hoping.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10