Sean K. Cureton

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Directed by Steven Spielberg
3 out of 4 stars

Based on the book Team of Rivals by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln explores Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, as an eccentric character played with amazing attention and accuracy by the great English actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Supported by one of the strongest casts imaginable for a period drama/history picture, including the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and James Spader just to name a few, Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln as both the historic icon that he has been made into as well as the conflicted individual that the film’s narrative introduces him to be is nothing short of brilliant.

Spielberg’s film follows Lincoln at an interesting point in his life, namely the period of time at the very end of the Civil War when Lincoln sought to establish the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. Much of the film’s action is thus based on scenes of heated debate and conversation among Lincoln and his advisors, pro-abolitionists and their rivals, as well as the various members of the U.S. House of Representatives while in session over the passing of said amendment. It is admirable that a film with so much talking, and talking overstuffed with political jargon at that, is made to be so entertaining and downright funny. Instead of strictly focusing on the historic nature of the film, which is still attended to in great detail as one can see from simply noting the impeccable attention paid to the costumes in this film, Spielberg’s film is written by screenwriter Tony Kushner in a way that gets at just what made the various players odd, grotesque, funny, and just plain human.

Daniel Day-Lewis, as mentioned before, is in top form as the American president, speaking in the historically accurate high-pitched voice that had been noted upon before the film was even released to a wide audience. However, it is sometimes hard to focus on Lewis when there are so many other wonderful performers sharing screen time with Lewis. Most notably, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones are awe inspiring in their roles as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens, providing two of the best supporting actor performances of the entire year. If it weren’t for such wonderful performances from the supporting players in this film, Lewis’ performance might have been even more stunning, albeit weakened in not having any other performers for Lewis to react in relation to.

However, there is one major concern that mars this film’s lofty intentions, which is Steven Spielberg’s direction. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any direction at all. It feels as though the entire film were an exercise in acting among some of the best actors alive, with Spielberg simply filming the said actors interpretations of the characters in Kushner’s admirable script. And yet, if Spielberg weren’t the director, maybe the film wouldn’t hold together as well, as, after all, Spielberg knows how to make comfortable Hollywood films, even if comfortable has come to be equated with sappy and mediocre in recent years in Spielberg’s case. Nevertheless, Spielberg did a fine enough job directing this film, even if someone else might have given it a more distinctive aesthetic touch.

Daniel Day-Lewis may very well be nominated for best actor this year and win it. Hell, the picture might sweep this year based on all the factors involved. Yet it needs to be said that Spielberg’s film is not the best film to be released this year, although it may be the most comfortable for a wide audience and the Academy of Motion Pictures come time for the Oscars early next year. Nevertheless, at least this film adaptation of Lincoln didn’t feature any vampires.


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