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I remember fondly, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey as Lincolns in "Young Mr.Lincoln" and "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" They gave remarkable performances. But, here and now in this extraordinary Steven Spielberg/Tony Kushner version, the illusion is complete. I was watching the president and not for a moment thought of the actor. That in itself is close to unique. I left the theater with the feeling I've just had an out of body experience. Everything around the central performance - and I call it a performance because I don't know what else to call it - falls into place in a miraculous way. The photography, the production design, the wardrobe made it possible to actually smell the period. Congratulations and thank you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So what happened?
1. The first problem with this film is the script. The writer Tony Kushner is a Pulitzer winning theater writer, but other than "Munich" he hasn't done any motion pictures. The long drawn out dialogue between Lincoln's cabinet and the lengthy parliamentary congress sessions might play well on Broadway, but they linger on screen. It wasn't just Kushner's fault. Spielberg is one of the few directors who has final cut on anything he does, so ultimately it's yet another vast mis-judgment by the best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. He's currently slated to direct Indiana Jones 5, so I guess that tells you where his judgment is. We're all waiting patiently for him to retire with some dignity, but he's just Brett Favre'n it all the way.
It was a huge mistake for Dreamworks when deciding on the story, not to include Lincoln's childhood, his struggle with schooling, the severe poverty he faced growing up on the western frontier, and how he had to teach himself how to be a lawyer, family roots, his political career, and ultimately, his assassination. It's very clear from the beginning, that this film is not about Lincoln's life, but a very specific part of his presidency,(The Emancipation Proclamation).
90 minutes of this 150 minute film was spent on the 13th Amendment. So much so, that every single member of congress when voting, had their own screen time to voice that vote. It should have been called, "Emancipation" or "ep13", but not "Lincoln." Do not go into this movie expecting to learn about Abraham Lincoln's life. You will be hugely disappointed.
2. There was no sense of space. No aerial shots of Washington DC in the 1860s... no city shots showing how life was back then... just interior scenes, a few battlefield scenes, and a few outdoor speeches. And this coming from one of the greatest special effects pioneers of the medium- lame.
3. No secret service. The Secret Service was created by President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, the day of his assassination. Don't you think that would be an interesting thing to showcase in a movie titled "Lincoln?" One third of the US currency in circulation was counterfeit at the time. There was no mention of it. And also, at no point did you see ANY security around the president except for a few soldiers around him in wide shots. It just made it seem even more like a filmmaker trying to tell his own pretentious tale of history instead of what really happened.
4. To much cabinet delegation and congress discussion; not enough "Lincoln." Sure, the film made an attempt to show his affection for his son Todd, and you did see some private moments with his wife Mary, but it was all put there in a disingenuous way because the story wasn't about his family. It was hammering the 13th Amendment down our throats the whole film. Did the NAACP make this film? Lol.
5. The cast was too big. There's over 120 speaking roles in this film. 120! That's insane. Daniel Day Lewis was dazzling- his eyes just penetrated you, as usual. He projected the essence of Lincoln (at least from what legend suggests) through an indirect manner that can only be witnessed to understand. He will get the Oscar nomination for this, no question. My prediction- he will win the best actor Academy Award. Everyone else was very good, a few were great- Holbrook and Stratharin especially. Sally Field was good, but not great- and Tommy Lee was his old self- always brilliant, but never stretching beyond his usual.
6. The ending. Instead of showing the horror of what happened the night of April 14, 1865, Spielberg decided to leave out the Ford Theater altogether and instead show another theater during another play, in which a man comes on stage and makes an announcement that Lincoln was shot. Then Lincoln's youngest son Todd, who happens to be attending this "other" play, looses it. And that's it. Not only do you have to sit through 2.5 hours of boring film, but there is no pay off at the end (because we KNEW this ending was coming). To show it like they did was almost as tragic as the event itself. I'm not saying show the bullet rip through his skull, but show us the event as it unfolded- don't deny the audience of that emotion.
I understand not wanting to glorify Booth. I get that. But this is history now. It happened almost 150 years ago. And Spielberg didn't think twice to show civil war soldiers being brutally murdered in the beginning of the film, why not show the murder at the end and DE-mystify it for all of us? And if his argument is that this film isn't about that, then why even show that part of his presidency at all??? Why not end the film with Lincoln still living... insinuating that his efforts and spirit still live on? This Jewish filmmaker can make a film about Oscar Schindler and show atrocities of monumental proportion... he can make a film called Saving Private Ryan and re define brutality, but he can't show the death of our most beloved President from Lincoln's perspective? - there may not have even been a holocaust if Lincoln had survived. So Steven, please don't give me the "we can't show that" line because you showed it a hundred times in Schindler's list and you won an Oscar for it.
It saddens me a great deal to write this review. I never would have dreamed that I would be giving Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" a 2 out of 10. My advice: Watch this film for a clinic on acting and cinematography- but wait for it on video. I might buy the DVD as a cure for insomnia.
Daniel Day-Lewis is something of an unsung miracle; the man will come
out of nowhere, select an unlikely role, knock it out of the park, then
quietly crawl back into the ground for the next three or four years
before repeating the same process. He is an underrated talent most
likely due to his lack of a prolific career, somewhat like director
Terrence Malick. Here, Day-Lewis teams up with one of Hollywood's most
prolific men, Steven Spielberg, who is coming off a stellar 2011, where
he produced both Super 8 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon and
directed both The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, two acclaimed
Spielberg mans the camera in one of the most exhilarating biopics in recent memory. Lincoln is a stunning humanization and coloring-book job of American politics, shedding a light on the skepticism and grayness of the government during that time. To simplify the story, Spielberg chooses to focus on the political interworkings of our sixteenth president's cabinet rather than the Civil War itself. It shows the long, grating process of amending the United States' constitution for the thirteenth time to abolish slavery and grant African Americans equality, and how that more than one men stood at the center of the action when the process was taking place, along with how he was incorruptibly confident that ending the practice of slavery will lead to ending the war.
While titled "Lincoln," we get several other characters with a fairly surprising amount of screen time. Among them are Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd, Tommy Lee Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens, the fiery Radical Republican leader who is strongly passionate about abolitionism, Sally Field as the president's devoted wife, Mary Todd, and David Strathairn as William Seward, the secretary of state. It could also be said that at times Abraham Lincoln is not writer Tony Kushner's (who also penned Spielberg's Munich, unseen by me) prime focus, as much as it is the backroom deals of the 1865 congress and the political battles and obstacles each member faced when their morals and ideology came forth in abolishing one of the most inhumane acts ever allowed in the United States.
Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerizing here, never overplaying or shortchanging Lincoln in one of his most reliable roles yet. Here, he seems much more cinematic than his previous works, and seems to be smitten with Lincoln's character and persona as he embodies him for one-hundred and fifty minutes. His voice is not stereotypically deep manly, and guttural as many other works have made him out to be, but reedy and poetically satisfying, boasting not much more than historical records claim. Day-Lewis is only assisted by the wealth of invaluable talent he is surrounded by, yet some of the most powerful work of his career comes out when Lincoln is reciting stories or parables to a group of bewildered, yet fascinated individuals who recall and cherish every word the man is saying.
One requirement upon seeing Lincoln is you must commit to two and a half hours of dialog and monologues from several characters about several different topics. One challenge faced by the filmmakers that is inherently difficult to overcome is the wealth of information, history, and knowledge of the period, and we see the struggle they face at attempting to sum it all up into a structured, disciplined film. I could've seen this as an HBO ten to fifteen part miniseries, elaborating on smaller characters, extending the work of the amendment, and even showing Lincoln's impact on a still vulnerable United States. But such an action may have proved too heavy for even history buffs.
With this film, there is a lot going on in terms of subtleties and there is a plethora of weight that rests on the film's script that at times makes this a challenging picture to watch. I'm reminded of my recent adventure to see the Wachowski's Cloud Atlas, and how that film was beautiful, striking, and increasingly ambitious, but also maddening and occasionally tedious. I wouldn't so much call Lincoln maddening or tedious as I would challenging to stay in-tuned with.
But that does not mean I couldn't see thousands of people emerging pleased and delighted with the film they just saw. This is a richly detailed and unsurprisingly intellectual picture that will go down as one of the greatest cinematic endeavors to ever focus on American politics. Kushner and Spielberg have gone on to make quite possibly the best film we'll ever see about the passage of an amendment through congress and the exhausting compromises and deals that go along with the process. Finally, I must note Spielberg's top notch use of subversive elements from Lincoln's voice, to the focus of the picture from a narrative point of view, to the inevitable conclusion that still leaves us impacted and shaken.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, and Jackie Earle Haley. Directed by: Steven Spielberg.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie examines Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) efforts to pass
the 13th Amendment in the last few months of his life. It is a detailed
account of his strategy and the negotiations of the members of his
cabinet, especially his Secretary of State, William Seward (David
The story deals with the minute details involved in making slavery illegal; conversations between pompous politicians are endless and dry and I found it boring. I would have preferred a biography of Lincoln's life; the nonstop speechifying was tedious in the extreme. None of the dialogue sounded spontaneous; each line sounded well-rehearsed with the result that it looks like a filmed play.
Day-Lewis certainly looks the part, but his Lincoln isn't very interesting or charismatic. His soft, high voice is particularly unengaging. I expected his voice to sound like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
For me, the movie was too long and a crashing bore.
It's seldom that I leave a movie knowing that I absolutely will go back
to a theater to see that movie again rather than wait for distribution.
As I walked out, I absolutely knew that I would be back. There are so
many amazing actors in this movie that I need to go back to fully
appreciate the story.
In my estimation, Spielberg's Lincoln will become the definitive movie on Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis absolutely disappeared into this character and out gallumped Honest Abe - country lawyer, gifted orator and a man born more fully suited to the desperate needs of a nation than possibly any other man in history. This movie is not the shiny myth, but a portrait of an amazing man who inspired, cajoled and even bribed the Representatives of the People into representing ALL of the people.
If you go, and I hope that you do, go with ears ready to hear voices speaking out to us from our violent past, telling us that we can be better than we are, that some things should be done because they must be done and that we can sometimes accomplish the impossible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoiler Alert - specific spoilers in here.
This is the most ridiculous movie I've watched in a long time. A wasted effort.
I understand this is not an action movie - so why start with a war scene straight out of Saving Private Ryan, play that for ten minutes and then spend the rest of the movie exploring the political machinations of Washington and trying to get around 20 votes to pass slaving reforms. Spoiler alert, it was passed. Oh and right at the start the two black soldiers were able to quote a previous Lincoln speech word perfect, thanks Mr Spielberg, completely believable.. I'm sure that really happened.
Daniel Day Lewis spends WAY too much time talking to the floor, there's absolutely and completely no passion from him, he wanders off into little stories that have little relevance to the topic and at one point even one of the senators buggers off because he can't be arsed listening to yet another boring story.
His son wants to join the Army and Lincoln does his level best to stop him, even taking him to a hospital where he witnesses cartloads of limbs being thrown into a pit but STILL the son signs up BUT Mrs Lincoln completely illogically spends a entire scene berating Lincoln for letting their son sign up - that scene was just put in there so she could show her acting chops, it lost all of it's dramatic effect because Lincoln DID try everything in his power to stop his son signing up, no wonder he spends the entire time looking down and talking to the floor, it's because he gets blamed for everything..
The amendment gets passed (hurrah!) but the reasons for each senator changing from a no to a yes isn't fully explored, it seems almost random, THEN it gets REALLY disjointed and amateurish - Lincoln gets shot, Spielberg spends A LOT of time showing Lincoln leaving the house for the last time and next scene it's some guy in the theater shouting the Presidents been shot, next scene its a doctor declaring him dead at home and then some fantasy sequence with Lincoln giving what I can only imagine is meant to be a soaring speech to a large crowd but it was the dullest speech in the whole movie and should have been moved to DVD extras.
If it's not a Lincoln bio-op then why do the shooting, it was meant to be about the 13th Amendment but why add 30 minutes extra about the assassination. This movie was a wasted opportunity, a confused mess which doesn't know what it wants to be, and just because DDL is in it and it's about abolishing slavery everyone is applauding it but even 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' was better than this pile of dog pooh and that's saying something!
I'm prepared to admit at this point that Daniel Day Lewis has succeeded
to the title of most brilliant actor of his generation--and I do not
say that lightly. But when I consider what he has done here--imbued the
most sacred president in our history with such aching, gorgeous,
complex humanity--seemingly without conscious effort on his part--I say
give it to him.
His Lincoln is at once ordinary and divine, passionate and all too earthy...and he inhabits the role so fully that not beyond the first minute do you think to yourself that you are watching an actor and not the man himself. I admit, at the first speech, I rather expected the voice to be deeper and more commanding, but that wore off instantly, and Spielberg to his credit gets every scene note-perfect. The scene where soldiers on the field were quoting back to him the Gettysburg Address was heartbreaking--The big guns, to be sure, but everyone in the theater stopped breathing. Spielberg has the mood and light fine-tuned to the point that when the characters are donning shawls against the cold--this in the white house--you shiver. I can'think of a single actor who was not up to snuff, but James Spader as a rascally vote procurer stands out. Sally Field as the troubled Mary Todd Lincoln is a sympathetic gem, and her portrayal should go a long way towards explaining and perhaps inviting history's revision of that unhappy woman. The film focuses most on the nuts and bolts of legislative and presidential processes, and while that may be boring for some,it has such a ring of authenticity and research that it had me scrambling for the history books to check on things I hadn't known. This is the most difficult of all subjects to film, a dense scholarly work translated to popular culture, but it succeeds on all counts. See it, make your children go with you. You won't regret it.
Just read some of the "bad" reviews & simply just don't get how you
can't like this GREAT MOVIE. Spielberg's "Lincoln" was AWESOME. The
Director was able to take you "Back In Time" when things were much
simpler & primitive, way back in the 1860's. And Daniel Day Lewis moved
me in this film like no other actor has ever done. Mr. Lewis'
performance was mesmerizing and spellbinding. He was "Abraham Lincoln."
His acting in this movie is definitely "Best Actor/Academy Award
"Lincoln" was not directed or produced with the main intention to deliver an Action "Civil" War Movie concentrating on horrific action battle scenes. If you want mainly entertaining action scenes then James Bond & "Skyfall" should be your pick. I'm sure it is also an awesome film. I want to see "Skyfall" also. But "Lincoln" was my first pick of the holiday blockbuster season.
Stephen Spielberg, designed this Movie to specifically concentrate on "The Man" Abraham Lincoln: Our 16th President of the United States. And how Mr. Lincoln helped end the CIVIL WAR and at the same time Abolish Slavery in our United States of America in the last few but Very Important months of this Great Man's Life. Daniel Day-Lewis helped show the truly human sides of Abraham Lincoln.
I Admire and Honor Abraham Lincoln even more so after viewing this Film.
Steven Spielberg visuals are excellent in movies and this one is no
exception. He does a wonderful job recreating the time period that
Lincoln was a part of. The difficulty I have is in believing some of
the dialogue and the revisionist history that takes place in this
movie. The opening scene is a bloody battle and it appears realistic.
Unfortunately the following scene has two black soldiers chatting with
Lincoln outside in a makeshift camp. He's sitting at a table while they
discuss their observations with him. Listening to them you'd think they
all grew up on the same block together. One soldier lectures Lincoln
and interrupts him during their conversation, while the other is
Lincolns best buddy. A soldier wouldn't ever talk to a president in
2012 in this manner. In 1865 if two black soldiers acted this way they
would have been immediately been put in irons. Blacks had to be
extremely deferential interacting with whites during that century
because the law looked the other way when they were murdered by whites.
The scene is ridiculous.
Throughout the movie Spielberg emphasizes slavery as Lincolns motivation for engaging with the South. Fact check: Lincoln goal was to preserve the union. He did not remotely believe in equality of the races. Like most whites at that time, he considered blacks inferior. He stated that he would free some of the slaves, or all of the slaves, or none of the slaves if it would preserve the union. The movie is sort of a Disney version of Lincoln and loose on the facts.
This movie is over rated (probably because Spielberg is so powerful in Hollywood) and if you know any civil war history you will be disappointed. Lincoln, like all presidents, was a mixed bag. He believed in that it was acceptable to pay $300 to buy your way out of the war (the Irish didn't like that idea). Lincoln seriously considered deporting blacks to central America or Africa after the war. There was a great deal of corruption during his administration. Like most elites he believed the war should be fought by others(he wouldn't allow his son to put on a uniform until the war was over). Spielberg paints Lincoln as a saint and it would have been better (and far more realistic) if he had been portrayed a man with faults. The movie is a disappointment, if you want real history, read a book. This movie is a fable for children.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading approximately 200 books on the subject, Steven
Spielberg's politically correct screenwriter, playwright Tony Kushner,
decided it would be best to focus on the last four months of President
Lincoln's presidency and the fight over the 13th Amendment, rather than
covering Lincoln's entire term in office. Apparently, Spielberg
concurred, concluding that a full-blown rendering of Lincoln's
presidency would be unwieldy and the more narrow focus would perhaps be
more dramatically effective. He could have proffered up a three and a
half hour spectacle, covering many of the significant bases of
Lincoln's political and personal life, beginning with the first
Inauguration, with full knowledge that it's been done before quite
effectively (Sam Waterston's and Mary Tyler Moore's magisterial
performances in the 1988 TV movie adaptation of 'Gore Vidal's Lincoln'
come to mind).
First and foremost, what's missing here is little sense of Lincoln's brilliance as a master politician. Since most of the movie focuses on the machinations in the House of Representatives, focusing on the fight over the passage of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln's input is minimal. Tommy Lee Jones, as Radical Republican, Thaddeus Stevens, steals the show with his brilliant performance as the fiery abolitionist representative, who ends up giving up his quest for equal rights for blacks in order to have slavery abolished, with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Spielberg's opus is supposed to be based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, 'Team of Rivals'--but where is the 'team'?
All the fascinating characters from Lincoln's cabinet are missing interacting with one another. In the Gore Vidal movie, both Seward and Secretary of the Treasury Chase's political ambitions are dissected and we actually get a sense of what their personalities are like. Here, David Strathairn as Seward, stands around with nothing much to do as Lincoln's adviser. Lincoln actually had to balance the conflicting positions and personalities of the members of his cabinet. This is effectively conveyed in both Gore Vidal's novel and TV adaptation but not at all in Spielberg's 'Lincoln'.
Wonderful peripheral figures who are an integral part of the Lincoln story are lost due to Spielberg and Kushner's onerous decision to ignore the earlier history. The 1988 biopic includes them: Kate Chase, Salmon Chases' daughter, who married the "boy governor" of Rhode Island; millionaire businessman turned General, William Sprague; Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's debate rival; Billy Herndon, Lincoln's former law partner and McClellan, Lincoln's failed first general, who later opposed him in the Election of 1864.
Spielberg is more interested in the arcane: focusing on the minor figures from the House of Representatives--now lost to history. Spielberg and Kushner spend so much time on the vote in the House of Representatives, as if this is the defining moment of Lincoln's presidency. Perhaps from a modern perspective, yes! But I found it hard to believe that the bells were chiming and there were was a giant parade in pro-rebel Washington, D.C., on the day the 13th Amendment was passed. The real cheering was on April 9, 1865, when the South surrendered. The end of the war was of course the main concern of the people of the time, not necessarily the abolition of slavery.
Watching Spielberg's 'Lincoln', one can hardly realize that there was indeed a dark side to our 16th President. The suspension of Habeas Corpus and Lincoln's prosecution of political enemies without due process of law, is an aspect of the Lincoln presidency hardly addressed in Spielberg's flattering hagiography. Lincoln's view of African-Americans was decidedly less progressive than Spielberg lets on here. Even shortly before the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was still entertaining schemes of colonization for blacks in South America and Africa.
And what of Mary Todd Lincoln? Sally Field looks a lot more like Mary Todd than Mary Tyler Moore did in the 1988 mini-series, but Moore truly turns the President's wife into a fully-realized character. With Kushner's sketchy script, Field only is able to touch upon a few of the major points of Mary Todd's life in the White House. In the Gore Vidal movie, we actually get to see and FEEL the devastating effect son Willie's death had upon her, as it occurs in real time. Here (like so many of the earlier events during the Lincoln Presidency), it is only alluded to. What's more, Mary Todd's meltdowns (probably today characterized as 'bipolar') are only tangentially dealt with, as opposed to the earlier TV movie, where they are an integral part of the story.
Kushner creates a non-part for the character of Elizabeth Keckley, the African-American dressmaker turned servant to Mary Todd Lincoln. In the 1988 biopic, there's actually a relationship shown between the two women, with Keckley morphing into a confidante, in effect acting as a sounding board for Mary Todd Lincoln's actual views on slavery. In Spielberg's 'Lincoln', there's an unlikely scene where Keckley confronts Lincoln on the front porch of the White House, musing about the future fate of African Americans in the U.S.
Daniel Day Lewis is as good as Sam Waterston but unfortunately he just doesn't have a good script to work with. Probably the best scene in the film is the confrontation between Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens in the White House pantry. But because none of the other 'team of rivals' is developed, Lincoln has hardly anyone to play off of here. Spielberg's attempt to examine Lincoln's personal life also falls flat. The melodramatic scene where he slaps son Robert, feels completely out of character!
Before you praise Spielberg's 'Lincoln' to the hilt, go out and purchase Gore Vidal's Lincoln. It's only $4.89 at deepdiscountdvd.com and Sam Waterston is simply excellent as the politician and the man, warts and all! As usual, Spielberg's production values far outshine the low budget efforts on television. Ultimately, one should expect more from the famed director instead of his narrow focus on such an iconic figure.
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