The story of America’s (currently) favorite President has finally arrived. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln gives an intimate view of “honest Abe” as the fate of the thirteenth Amendment (to abolish slavery) and his re-election approaches.
I wanted to love it. I entered the theatre with words like “spectacular” in my head. Nothing beats a spectacular civil war movie (my favorite is Gone with the Wind). Despite the consistently witty script by Tony Kushner, other elements like the acting and score didn’t catch up to its merit for about forty-five minutes.
Thank heaven for James Spader’s comical and charming performance as W.N. Bilbo, a lobbyist commissioned to secure votes for Lincoln. The Emmy Award winning actor had my heart since Boston Legal and certainly did not disappoint!
However, Spader’s appearances were sporadic, and I was left with Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, telling anecdote after anecdote… after anecdote. And if it wasn’t an anecdote, it was some kind of “wise” saying. Those who’ve read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (upon which the film is based) may know something I don’t about Lincoln’s idiosyncrasies, but from a simple moviegoer’s point of view, I found his storytelling and proverbial sayings overdone.
I’ll admit, watching a lanky Lincoln curl up next to his sleeping son by the fire definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Unfortunately, moments like these seemed short-lived. Furthermore, while I was captivated by the physical (and vocal) transformation of Day-Lewis into Lincoln, I still felt like I was simply watching a textbook on screen for a good chunk of the film. I didn’t feel a connectedness between characters, and it took entirely too long for me to connect with each of them myself. I’m still not sure I did.
A glimmer of hope came when Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, gave a dazzlingly smart speech about equality to the House of Representatives. Finally, my emotions were rousted, and I was willing to continue the journey through one of the most morally complex and revolutionary times in American history.
President Lincoln was a profoundly advanced thinker; at least, that’s what I learned from the film. His conviction that slavery had to be abolished despite a world that accepted it as ethical proved he had tremendous foresight. So, is it okay to abuse power, manipulate, and lie in order to uphold a “self-evident” truth? And how does one demonstrate these seemingly corrupt qualities yet remain dearly beloved by generations of Americans? To see Lincoln grapple with these age-old questions of morality is powerful.
Through all his grappling, his wife is there with equal amounts of emotional turmoil and support. Sally Field gives a solid performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, finally extracting some of Lincoln’s vulnerability from behind his mostly pensive and calm exterior. And, of course, can anyone complain about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln? America’s crush sheds light on the dependency of a man’s self-respect on his participation in war.
So, about two and a half hours later, I left the theatre with the word “spectacular” erased from thought. However, I did feel that I had seen something of quality.
The script is the film’s diamond—dazzling with its humor, cleverness, and depth. The performances are solid (not extraordinary) all around. Make sure you’re in the mood for a slow moving, yet thought-provoking film. It’s not an action flick!