Of all the filmmakers in Hollywood today, few names carry as much respect and credibility as Steven Spielberg. In a fifty three year-long carrier, the man has made many beloved classics and masterpieces such as Jaws, The Indiana Jones films, E.T., Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, has been a producer or a direct influence in over a hundred other projects, founded DreamWorks Pictures and is one of the few directors from the New Hollywood Era who has managed stay relevant, fresh and able to adapt and change with time. While some people argue that his best days are behind him, films like Munich, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse still prove that the man hasn’t run out of steam even if they are a far cry from what he did in the 70s and 80s. But today we’re here to talk about his most recent film, Lincoln.
Taking place during the final months of the Civil War, the film revolves around Abe Lincoln as he tries to get the 13th Amendment passed that will end slavery in the United States, showing all of the backdoor deals that had to be made in order to get the amendment passed as well as showing the personal grief he and his family went through during this time. And because I am making a point to see as many films as I can this year, (and sense nothing came out that weekend other than Twilight), I decided to take a look at Spielberg’s latest film. This is my review of Lincoln.
Now, as you might expect, the acting in this movie is fantastic. The most notable and the guy who steals the show is Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and talk about a perfect casting choice. Everything about this guy just said that he is Abraham Lincoln from his body structure, to the way he walked, to his hair style, the wrinkles on his face, to his voice and his monologs and frequent storytelling. And this probably won’t be a surprise to anyone, but I think we have our Best Actor Winner of the year. One thing that I have noticed lately is that many historical themed films and videogames are showing revered people in a more human light and this film is no exception to this. It shows him as a fallible human being and how much a negative effect his presidency has had on his personal life, particularly with his eldest son and wife.
While this movie obviously belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis, all of the other actors do great work in their roles as well. Tommy Lee Jones was perfect as the Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens and steals any scene he is in and Sally Field was great as Lincoln’s wife who has been the most effected by the personal burdens of being a family member of a president. Many of the other cast members are great in their roles such as David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, and Bruce McGill but are ultimately limited by their screen time to do as much as they could.
One thing that might surprise you is that the story is very good. The problem with most Oscar Bait-type films like The King’s Speech, The Master, or Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy is that their narratives are not very compelling and often come off as being bland and dry. This film however is the exception to that rule. Within the film we get a really good look at all of the politics and backdoor deals that went into getting the amendment passed and it’s probably the only film that I can think of that shows how difficult the games of politicians can be, especially when dealing with big issues such as this.
But what really shocked me was just how funny this movie was. Unlike most Oscar Bait, the film had a very good sense of humor integrated throughout its runtime. Often Lincoln will start telling stories to various people almost at random and the stories themselves are either hilarious or his audiences reaction to them is. One that really stood out to me was the story of the bird who was predicting the end of the world and the tone of that joke is more or less the tone of the humor throughout the film. The rest of the comedy came from situations that really felt natural and unscripted. Unlike the humor in a lot of modern films a lot of the jokes in this film actually felt like they could happen, such as the situations James Spader and his band of backdoor dealers get into while trying to get the votes for the 13th Amendment or some of the reactions to Lincoln’s stories. It’s very well done, funny, and puts it a step above most Oscar Bait and could not have been happier about this.
Now I usually don’t gawk over set designs or where or how films are shot, but dear god is this film well done in those regards. Everything in this film from the set designs, to the costumes, to the fact that Lincoln often carries a blanket around with him to stave off the cold makes it seem like it legitimately takes place in 1865, (although I have to admit the fact that I’ve been to several of the places the film was shot in Richmond did take me out of the mood a bit). Adding to this effect was the lighting as everything seemed like it was shot with only sunlight, candle light, and fireplaces light.
There are, however, a few things that annoyed me about the film. For starters, Day-Lewis had a few to many monologs and they can and will ware on you after a while and it almost makes it seems like the writers felt that it was their job to make sure he won an Oscar as opposed to letting his performance carry it. The second thing, and it breaks my heart to say this, was John Williams’ score. The man has been responsible for some of the greatest and most memorable scores in film history such as the music for Indiana Jones, Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and a ton of others and holds the record for the most number of Oscar nominations in history and has won five. This score, however, sounds like the exact same thing that he has been composing for the last fifteen years and it’s not particularly well used. Whenever the music comes up it usually sounds manipulative, like the filmmakers are trying to tell you what to feel as opposed to letting the feeling come naturally. Often I found myself thinking that certain scenes would have been better if they had been completely silent or actually had a score that complimented what was on screen. And again, it breaks my heart to say this but I’m starting to think that John Williams may need to retire.
All around, despite the monologues and manipulative score, I really enjoyed this film and to be perfectly honest, I think it may be my favorite of the year. I loved the acting, the dialog, the story, the humor and the way it was shot and put together. If you’re a history buff like me then I recommend that you go and see it because it is worth your time and money and considering all the other stuff that has been coming out over the past few weeks this one is much more deserving of them.