Director: Steven Spielberg
“The Washington of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a world of collusion, compromise, and self-interest. The political sparring is brutal, with the lower chamber of Congress resembling a gladiatorial ring where legends are forged and vacillation can destroy a career.” (929, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I can’t help but think Ian Hayden Smith waxes lyrical about Lincoln – and overly so at that. I don’t agree with much of what he says. It’s a long and somewhat boring portrayal of a pivotal time in history.
“Daniel-Day Lewis is astonishing as the sixteenth President of the United States. Like Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama, we first see him from behind, hearing his voice before seeing his face. By the time we see him in close-up any trace of Daniel Day-Lewis is gone.” (929) I’m not a fan of Daniel-Day Lewis and that could have … what am I saying? It does have … a lot of do with why I find Lincoln to be one of the most boring, turgid and pointless films Spielberg has ever made. And I have a real bone to pick with Hayden Smith’s statement that by the time we see Lincoln all trace of Day Lewis has been removed. Mainly because it’s still recognizably the actor but more to the point we only ever saw still footage of Lincoln as he was assassinated before moving pictures came to be. So to say he has the characteristics of the 16th President is basically a fallacy – what we have is an actor impersonating other filmic examples of one of the most famous men in American history. Who knows what he was really like and how he moved? It’s all an interpretation. And yes while I know that all performance (and not just those on film) are just interpretations I think the thing I have an issue with is that Hayden Smith is lauding Day Lewis’ performance as being true to the person, and there is just no way that we could possibly know if that was true or not.
“The impact of one term in office and the grueling toll of a drawn-out civil war is visible in his face and physique, but when countering opposition to his plans he erupts with passion and fire.” (929) There is no denying that Lincoln made a huge impact on the landscape of American history in a very short space of time – there is a reason he is still one of the most recognizable Presidents so long after his tenure (and not just because he is now intrinsically linked to John Wilkes Booth, due to his assassination!) It’s actually a pretty interesting time in American history and yet it is still somehow a bit of a snooze-fest of a film unfortunately. The thing that interested me the most was the fight for the abolition of slavery taking place against the backdrop of the civil war raging at the same time.
And then on top of that you have all the interpersonal dramas taking place, which lend the film a much more human feel. You see the struggle of Mrs Lincoln to come to terms with the deaths and tragedies that have hit her family while at the same time being a public figure thanks to the nature of her husband’s job. Sally Fields does a tremendous job as Mrs Lincoln. I love her and her performance is one of the few things I enjoyed about the film. It’s so raw and vulnerable, yet at the same time she has this core of strength in her that makes her the equal of her famous husband. Joseph Gordon Levitt is the poor set-upon eldest son of the Lincoln’s, desperate to be doing his bit in the civil war and yet unable to due to the strings his father pulls in order to keep him from harm.
Tommy Lee Jones is memorable – and not just for his laughably atrocious wig – but more for his usual grouchy self. He doesn’t hold any punches with his views and opinions and is one of the fiercest supporters of the bill for the abolition of slavery. The reason being is shown in a very touching moment towards the end of the film following the successful passing of the bill. The film concludes, just as it was starting to get interesting for me, with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln although you do get to see some of the emotional fallout from that event before the end credits roll.
“[…] Spielberg’s consummate drama is a reminder of why Abraham Lincoln is among the most revered figures in U.S. political history.” (929) I do agree that the film is a great reminder of why Lincoln is still remembered throughout, not just America, but the wider world too. And for something other than being the first President of the United States to be assassinated. Spielberg puts all of Lincoln’s achievements on display so that there is a record for the younger generations to embrace the man’s legacy. But for me, personally it was not a great film and is not one I will be revisiting – but by all means do not let that put you of watching Lincoln.