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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.
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.
Here's a brief re-cap to get you up to speed on the relevance of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) as depicted in the film. The United States of America is divided as cotton rich states of the South refuse to phase out slavery. After Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln secures the Presidency, almost a dozen states in the South pull out of the 'Union' and become the Confederate States of America. As a bloody civil war rages between North and South, the film's story begins with President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. This is the Commander and Chief of the armed forces calling for slavery to be abolished in all states by seeking a landmark constitutional amendment. For this to happen, Lincoln must procure enough votes through Congress for a stay order on making slavery illegal anywhere in America. Challenged with factions within his Republican party, Lincoln becomes his own worst enemy in a daunting personal crisis: save thousands of lives by ending the war or prolong the war in favour of ending slavery.
Running at 150 minutes, this film is a slow burner with extensive dialogues and frequent courthouse debates; but like the trudging power of a steam locomotive, Lincoln pushes forward with remarkable pace while never losing sight of its destination. Piloting this powerhouse of a film is Daniel Day-Lewis in easily his finest hour as a method actor. His Lincoln is tall and bent over with war-stressed fatigue and a shrill voice, but armed with a quiver full of wisdom and remedial anecdotes for when push comes to shove. Throughout the narrative Lincoln is torn within as he manages his duties as the President of a nation, as a father who has lost a son, and as a husband who must confide in his wife when decisions become complex. This is also when I must mention Sally Field in another fine delivery as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and the epitome of the phrase 'Behind every great man is a woman'. Field's Mary is a tragic character whose depiction of a bleeding heart is memorable in a scene where she confronts Lincoln as the father of their children, not a man with immense power. With strong characterisation forming the flesh and blood of the film, you can also expect riveting roles from Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn, besides a multitude of top actors.
This is one of the most important films of the year and perhaps even the times we live in. By its very making, Spielberg has written the greatest obituary for one of the greatest leaders of the modern world. Lincoln is to Steven Spielberg what Gandhi is to Richard Attenborough; the commonality being crucial moments in history, rather than a history lesson per se. If I have to nit-pick, I suspect there could be historical anomalies in the narrative if this film is solely considered a biopic. This is why I strongly recommend the film as a political drama rather than a componential biography. Is it safe to say that President Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man? That he was extremely intelligent despite dropping out of school? That he changed the future of an entire nation? That Barak Obama is the current President of the United States of America because Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery? If you said 'yes' to any of these questions then Lincoln is more than just an Academy Award magnet—it is a landmark film made by people reiterating that freedom is a birth right for people everywhere.
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.
A highly polished, restrained, important movie.
That doesn't make this an exciting movie. The acting is terrific, and filming excellent (including a color saturation pulled back to give it an old look without seeming affected). It is clearly expert in the way we expect from Steven Spielberg above perhaps anyone, at least in the mainstream conventional sense.
But there are two things that make this movie a must see. One is the content. It's about one of the two or three most important things ever to happen in this country--the fight to end slavery during the Civil War. This is such powerful stuff it will make you weep. (If it doesn't, you'll have to ask why.) It's laid out as clearly and emphatically as possible while still keeping accurate.
The second thing is simply the overwhelming performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. It is so good you forget it's a performance (unlike, for example, his intensity in "There Will Be Blood" which stood out as a work of acting above the movie). Here he is so woven into the fabric of things he is indistinguishable from the historic truth, somehow. It's really the magic of the transparency of movie-making of this kind. Amazing performance.
It seems sacrilege to say this but the movie isn't perfect. Because of its material--getting the anti-slavery amendment through Congress--it involves a lot of talk, and a lot of people that you have to keep track of. I think Spielberg did this as good as it could be done, so no criticism there, but it does mean a lack of physical and even emotional drama through much of the film. I don't mean it's dull, just that it's conversational. I also found shreds of Spielberg's Frank Capra quality of making the movies--and his subjects--a little simplified. He ties up loose ends. He makes it all a fine package, very fine. Maybe too fine for what I would call high art. At times.
I think we'll have an easier time judging it in six months, or six years. Also the subject matter makes it almost unassailable, since clearly most of us are all for the passing of any anti-slavery legislation.
See this for all the reasons you have heard. Don't miss it. Maybe down a coffee before you go, but see it no matter what. As I say, it's important. It reminds you of greatness, and that's not something to miss.
UPDATE over one year later: I see that I accepted a lot of decisions by the writer and director as their prerogative, like focussing on one issue and narrowing to a short period of time. I had no bones with the scope of the movie. But in retrospect I see how the limitations of time and scope and background also create a sense of mis-information. That is, if you want a bigger picture of Lincoln, this movie is not quite right. Its aggrandizement is also not unavoidable, like the somewhat insipid (and yet moving) recital of the Gettysburg Address at the beginning by soldiers. Overall, though, I stick to my main thought--see it, and soak up what you can, without expecting perfection. Yes, see it for what it is, nothing less.
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.
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.
Most media representations of "honest Abe" falls into this latter category, as best exemplified in the literal cartoon that was last year's "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter" which brought things into sharper relief by playing it all in deadly earnest. Of course Lincoln lived only a couple of lifetimes at remove from us, so the truth is there, but we choose to ignore it because we want to believe in this great noble hero who "freed the black man" from the sadistic, demonic evil deformed Southerners, as simple a battle between "Good" and "Evil" as the equally misrepresented WWII, a man driven by an all-conquering desire for equality so strong it even has its own stirring accompaniment of tear jerking violins and moving horns wherever it goes! It's a pleasing fantasy, especially for rich white people who like to pat themselves on the back for how noble and good they are, even though it relegates Black people to simpletons, smiling happy children free of any adult sin or virtue, perpetual victims who need nice enlightened white folk to make their destinies for them.
I approached this film with some trepidation; sure that Spielberg the great romantic would give us more of the same and then some. However the film walks a very strange tightrope indeed. Taken from D K Godwin's dry text, it spends a lot of time looking at the political machinations and double dealing that got the 13th amendment (banning slavery) passed, and is a highly instructive lesson about how government and democracy actually works, including bribery corruption and outright lies. In turn it has been adapted by playwright Tony Kusher into what is really a filmed play with little real action and everything confined to a few room like sets where dialogue carries everything. This is all then filmed by Spielberg, who injects the admittedly very restrained production with jarring and intrusive stabs of pure schmaltz, usually whenever the evil of slavery is brought up, or one of the many prominently (and highly anachronistically) positioned Black faces steps to make some clichéd speech. These Spielbergian moments can be easily identified because whenever they appear in between the political machinations and congressional double dealings, John Williams stirring flag waving music strikes up to pull those old heartstrings! (You could almost invent a drinking game around them, one that would probably get you very drunk indeed) So really, it's two very separate movies, the Godwin/Kusher political lesson being the biggest, with the Spielberg schmaltz in support.
To its credit the film looks authentic, including the dim candle and gaslight level lighting which bathes everything in semi darkness, and most of the characters act, speak and think like people from the 1860s rather than people from 2012 in costume (Save for the aforementioned anachronistic Spielbergian romance moments) both of which are very rare in historical film.
This being a stage play in all but name, it is the actors who dominate, and here we have some of the best. Daniel Day Lewis gives us a powerful version of the mythical Lincoln we know and love (rather than the less pleasant real one) with his homespun tales and folksy charm, stirring passion and quiet determination, and he is gifted by an existing physical resemblance. Sally Field creates a powerful character our of Mary Lincoln, the only character to shine a less than positive light on her famous husband, strong willed and frustrated, all too aware of her position as the wife of a legend, a woman who pushes for the 13th largely because it will end the war and keep her son from harm. Tommy Lee Jones incarnates radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, a man too extreme for his time, with the fire of the old TLJ we haven't seen in a while, the brutish, frightening thug like alpha male who can intimidate and crush those beneath him like bugs, the man with the lashing wit and grandiose gestures, and it's nice to see him back again. David Straithern, another powerful presence, plays Lincoln's fixer William Seward. His character is very similar to the one he plays in the "Bourne" series, the intelligent committed patriotic manipulator who uses downright shady and suspect methods for 'the greater good', expect here we are expected to side with him. His chief agent is played with amoral glee by an almost unrecognisable James Spader, bribing dead duck Democrats with lucrative posts for the 'yes' vote in a series of light hearted vignettes. Jason Gordon Levitt appears as Abe's eldest son Robert, determined to enlist against his father's wishes, whom even a gruesome pit full of severed limbs can't fully dissuade. Legendary Hal Holbrook lends gravitas as voice of reason Preston Blair while Jared Harris effectively incarnates another legend, General Ulysses S. Grant for a few vital scenes.
For a Spielberg film about war, there is virtually no action, and those expecting a big spectacular will leave disappointed. This is a history lesson starring famous names written by a playwright adapting a political analyst's dissertation on Congressional politics, directed by the master of romanticism and sentimentality, with a lot of unpleasant truth's airbrushed out and replaced by the legends we would like to believe are actually true in their place. It won't be for all tastes, but it is worth a look for those with a little patience.
"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.
My faults with the film:
-Spielberg's Lincoln speaks only through tedious, predictable allegories. These speeches are so boring that more than one character simply walks away during it's interminable running. I wish I could have walked away too.
-Black people are treated as oracles and not human beings. The black characters in this film exhibit no manner of humanity and are reduced to simple plot devices. We don't care about their plight because they're not like us. They're heartless machines.
-Relations between races in this film are portrayed in a dishonest way. Black soldiers and servants openly challenge and speak to Lincoln as if he's a fellow black man. This isn't the way things were and pretending that it was (from the very first scene!) simply disallows the film from building any heart, any credibility, any weight or substance. We learn quickly this is not a film about an important American historical figure, it is a (very) liberal interpretation. Since we do not see how poorly black people were treated we do not care about Lincoln's ultimate success with his proposed 13th Amendment.
-Characters do not develop, character arcs fizzle, conflicts left unresolved. What of Mary Todd Lincoln's impassioned speech to Lincoln regarding the enlistment of their son? She demands to be locked up in a crazy house if the senior Lincoln permits his son to join Grant's side. Well, Robert joined the army and Mary Todd is still in Washington. What was the point of that scene other than to give Sally Field something to do? Why are Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt even in this film? They have no bearing on the narrative this film attempts to tell!
Look, I did not expect this film to give an accurate representation of Lincoln's life. What I did expect is that I would get a tight, entertaining 2 hour slice of our greatest President's most critical hour. Instead I got a pandering, meandering, vapid, and vacuous play- on-celluloid treatment from one of the former cinema greats. This preachy, hunky-dory disease has plagued Spielberg since we were treated to those awful Present Day scenes in Private Ryan. Here it culminates into a suffocating veil which absolutely ruins any hope of this film being a success.
Thoughtless, generic, boring drivel.
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.
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.
"I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!"
'As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.'
Steven Spielberg has done it again! It seems like the older he gets, the better his films are! I was very satisfied with his efforts, particularly the set designs and tone. It was a joy to watch. I was not impressed with the cinematography efforts. It was well done but nothing stood out for me. For instance, Scorsese seems to bring a new camera angle/shot/position in every one of his films. I was expecting more.
The acting was this film's strongest aspect. Daniel Day Lewis brings an historic performance to the screen except I didn't see him in this picture. I saw Abraham Lincoln. He was so driven into the character, at times it was scary. Lewis' vision of Lincoln is self confident, calm and patient. It was in my favorite scene that his patience finally wore thin on his colleagues about the negativity in the 13th amendment. The mannerisms were spot on. His efforts match my personal favored work of his in 'My Left Foot'. His best contribution to the picture was consistency. Throughout, he never faltered. His accent never trailed off and his actions were always precise. He is fully deserving of the Academy Award for Best Actor. Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field also gave great performances. They brought character and charisma to the picture. I particularly enjoyed the Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field combination. They compliment each other very well. My only criticism of the cast is that there were too many actors. At times, the characters were defined with a tag on the bottom of the screen. I don't enjoy being told in letters who the characters are. I want the character to show me in action who they are.
The Score is very well done in this movie. The team of Spielberg and Williams never fails. The music brings just as much emotion to the screen as the actors do. It helps bring the vision and atmosphere to life.
This film isn't what I would call a 'masterpiece' but it was a joy to watch. A must see and one of the best films of 2012.
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!
Most of the action in 'Lincoln' takes place during the month of January of 1865. After four years of Civil War victory is quite close for the North, but the ending would have been meaningful only if the 13th Amendment making slavery illegal was adopted, making the reason of going to war and the temporary judicial war decisions part of the Constitution. Timing is critical, as the nation is tired and aspires for peace and recovery, and without the adoption of the amendment the end of the war may mean a compromise that leaves slavery in place. Abraham Lincoln will make all possible political maneuvering in order to have the amendment pass, in a Congress where he did not have the required majority. There is an interesting dilemma here about using 'unclean' political means in order to achieve a just cause and this is one of the principal themes. There are two problems here however in my opinion. One is that the political intrigues occupy a good half if not more of the film, and what we get on the screen is a painfully long succession of bearded gentlemen under top hats arguing and bribing for the good cause. I guess some of the American audiences are more familiar with the historical characters, but even so this is a long and repetitive succession of more of the same, and even the climax scene of the voting in the House misses some of the thrill I have expected. The other problem is the political speak which is attributed to almost all characters in the film. Maybe the script writers used fragments from speeches, I do not know, but there is too much rhetoric, too many historical sentences are being said by many characters (not only by Lincoln) and even in what should have been day-to-day situations. The overall result seemed to me tiring and emphatic. It is actually the non-political secondary threads that seemed more interesting – for example the agonizing decision of the parents Lincoln not allowing their elder son to fight in the war. This dilemma would have deserved a film by itself, a smaller but maybe better one.
Much was said and written (even a cover story in TIME Magazine) about Daniel Day-Lewis's impersonation of Lincoln. He is good but far in my opinion from his own creation in 'My Left Foot' or from Joaquin Phoenix's act in 'The Master' (best acting of the year in my view). The way he is filmed does not help, too many frames are looking towards catching his silhouette or making his profile look like the pictures which represent Lincoln in his time. Again, when he is human, when his words are not taken from speeches he looks and sounds better, but this is only for part of the time. Rhetoric prevailed in the building of this role, and Spielberg's scope looks like creating as many scenes to quote, but less to link them in a fluent story as he knows to do that well. I liked much more the supporting roles of Sally Field as a Lincoln's wife, or maybe the wife of all presidents or great men who sacrifice their personal lives for the greater causes, and of Tommy Lee Jones as the radical pro-abolitionist politician Thaddeus Stevens, a man whose life was dedicated to the fight against slavery, but who knows to make the right political move at the critical moment to achieve the legal confirmation of the dream, at a tough personal price with respect to his own ideals. In a movie where so many characters including the one that gives the name of the film are no more than rhetoric symbols, these two living heroes played by the two great actors make a refreshing difference.
Oh, but there are interruptions in the movie. Becoming a one-trick-pony, and learning that characters constantly interrupting each other (to cover up major plot details), is an improvement from being a director who doesn't have any connection to reality whatsoever. Yes, I guess he learned that it is far easier to excuse your mess to a loyal audience by leading them into it in a way where they may second guess their own intelligence and hope they conclude they were just 'too stupid to get it,' than to actually do the work of thinking about what should be the right way to film this stuff.
There are too many characters that do lazy-lipped complaining to Lincoln about something they disagree about him doing, and when they can't convince Lincoln that he's wrong, the same* annoying character goes down to the next man in line and complains to him* why what Lincoln says SHOULD be done! Could you get any more repulsive, please?... There are scenes where people are playing up their own helplessness when they obviously have no reason to feel helpless in the first place. This is done mostly as a pathetic attempt to add drama or at comedy to a movie where there is none. (Just because a guy chooses to let the President's son playing with a goat in the white house bother him, and chooses to try to deal with bystanders in his apparent lack of control about it, doesn't mean that we would make such a moronic decision about how to go about it. But, because it's assumed that we, the audience, are also spineless drama-queens like this guy, then we must also be thoughtless fools susceptible to forced and meaningless pretensions, and see this as comedy! But because the director is a hack, he knows that this scene is not funny or even amusing, so he tries to trick you by making you watch it before you even know what's going on; He slips it in the start of a scene, just following a sudden cut, so we have to follow this guy around doing this stupid thing before we even know what's happening.)
I could go on, but why bother?... Oh yeah, because I'm being harassed by shameless moochers in the form of prolific, know-it-all, professional critics about "Spielberg's Rousing Brilliance," and people farting about it being 'a five-star experience that touched their lives forever,' even before the damn trailers came out. Okay, that's a good reason. I'll go on:
A guy who is needed to pass the Amendment is scared and intimidated for no reason at all. The writers seem to know this because they actually have to have him yell "I would vote for it, but I ain't got no courage!" for the audience. This is really helpful, because if he never said this, we would never have any reason to know why he's not voting for the bill! 'Let's see, an opposing Rep. walks up to him and questions him about it, swinging broad shoulders. He responds with a sissy face. ...I guess in the land of Spielberg's spineless pretentiousness, this is enough to pass for intimidation!'
Hey, you want a new complaint? :) ...When Lincoln is returning home from a theater play (where Spielberg makes you think he is about to be shot so intensely that you forget what the scene was really about. Uh... why?!?), The Lincolns' black female servant thanks him for the bill he created to free all slaves. She then asks him if he really wants them in the country. He gives her a candid response about how he doesn't really know her yet, to which she then reveals that her son died in the War and that this should be enough for him to know who she is. There is a heavy silence, as she walks away and leaves him there to contemplate, that relieved me when it was cut away from (...because there weren't any 20 minute long sweeping farting noises from trumpets where there very easily could've been)! My point is this: She knows he risked career and reputation at greatest height to pass this bill because it's already established in the beginning that she sees him and works for him from day to day in the White House. So when she asks, 'Do you really want us here?,' Lincoln should've just said, 'Isn't that kind of a stupid question...? Nah, I'm going behind the backs of the will of the people at the height of my popularity, continuing to risk breaking legislative law, and extending the civil slaughter trying to keep Southern diplomats seceded from voting, all to free blacks from slavery because... oh, I don't know - I just love living on the edge of ruining myself!' But, because he gave some stupid answer to her stupid question, we have to sit through more totally unnecessary pretentious behavior, this time from her, about how she is already a good enough American. Poor set-up and little pay-off. All for worthless pseudo-dramatics.
Just look how many shamefully unpatriotic (and amateur-like) flaws this site, IMDb.com, has listed for this film. You see, Steven Spielberg's ego may have gotten so big that he feels anything he spits out will be called a masterpiece. He couldn't even make the Capitol Building look believable despite having made realistic dinosaurs when he had less money. He used the California State Building. Same State that Hollywood is in to save money on gas mileage...?!?
In LINCOLN, Spielberg, with his retinue of John Williams (film score), Janusz Kaminski (cinematography) and David Crank (art direction), gives us an alchemy of film making that simply weakens as we're made to plow through the awkwardness of Tony Kushner's wordy screenplay. Too often I had overlooked the challenges several key actors had in delivering their lines—text written more for reading rather than oral delivery. Odd that Kushner didn't do a better job of translating Goodwin's book, often criticized for being heavily researched yet depth-less in its treatment of that period.
There are numerous artistic missteps that, for me, kept bringing the film down to tawdry and even boring at times. And certainly having John Williams compose a piano solo in the middle of a scene symbolizing the end of the Civil War was utterly distracting, where using a chorus softly humming could have made the same scene compelling and powerful. (He does use a chorus humming in another scene, again a misstep.)
As to the acting, well, other than having to chew with overly huge mouthfuls of dialogue, I enjoyed the range of thespian theatrics. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln gives a good yet measured performance, hampered at times by the "Jesus" lighting Spielberg insists is necessary. When you see the film you'll know what I mean. Actually, several actors get that treatment. To me, it's almost laughable.
Sally Field as Mary Lincoln is good too, but it's the same wonderful Sally Field "acting" we see in so many of her films. Tommy Jones, as a powerful Pennsylvania Republican leader, gives another great Tommy Lee Jones performance, and for many, it will be a highlight of the film.
However, for me, it's Jared Harris (Mad Men) who really shines as Ulysses S. Grant. It took me a while to see him through the make-up—which is also a star of the film—but I never got over how remarkably he brought Grant to life, and as close as the person sitting next to you in the theater. Indeed, an award-worthy performance!
Having said all this, among my greatest concerns about Spielberg's LINCOLN are that it overly emphasizes the passing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to free the slaves. Yet in spite of itself, in a rather disturbing way, the film promotes the idea that slavery ended in the 19th Century. And because of Douglas Blackmon's Pulitzer Prize book,"Slavery by Another Name", we now know that slavery in the U.S. continued far into the 20th Century. In fact, Blackmon details it through World War II. For me, the film loses power with its short shrift of slavery and its narrow, uninspired focus on Washington politics as usual.
Finally, the most glaring flaw in my view is that Spielberg, in his seemingly obsessive zeal to further sanitize the Lincoln legend, glosses over the fact that Lincoln, aside from his reported hatred of slavery, was definitely not an abolitionist. In truth, he felt that freed Blacks should be sent back to Africa, or Central America. And he was clear that he did not want to interfere with slavery in places where it already existed.
This quote is damning to the Spielberg whitewash of Lincoln: "I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races--that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." - Abraham Lincoln, from a speech he delivered in 1858 in Charleston, Ill.
In LINCOLN, it's as if Spielberg has resurrected the old Selznick touch, but in this case it's in such a heavy-handed way, we nearly lose our passion to care. It's certainly not worthy of seeing again by this African American reviewer. Nevertheless, see it for yourself and report back. We'd like to know what you think!
A 10/10, without any doubt ! :)
After the shock of wasting that much of my life on this flop, I realized my anger was not directed at what a bad movie it was (and it was a truly bad movie), but what I later realized was it was such a colossal waste of time and talent. It could have been a very good movie, a spectacular movie for all time, but it never even got started on getting close to that level.
As a movie about Lincoln, it devoted very little of the movie to the subject, spending over half of it recreating the machinations of the House of Representatives debating the 13th Amendment. There was some new insight into Lincoln himself, for which Mr. Day-Lewis should be well credited, but taken as a whole, this was a monumental flop.
Mr. Day-Lewis was, by all accounts, able to recreate some of the physical characteristics of the late President, most notably his awkward gait. Several scenes depicted Mr. Day-Lewis plodding away down a hall in a perfect analogy for the movie - a slow, ponderous, heavy, dull and boring.
Added to the bad acting, bad directing, and bad writing were the bad visual effects - the CGI additions to buildings that didn't quite fit- plus all the little things that will appear as "goofs" in the pages of IMDb.com as others watch this monstrosity on DVD later.
The film started with good old honest Abe 'relaxing' or should that be 'tranquilize thy consciousness' on a military camp site with the men but not just men, black men! The mood and tone of the film has been set, Lincolon is grounded and relaxed when surrounded by the people. He's one of you. Isn't he wonderful! Made ever so much harder to believe when we can quote Licolon from his debates with Douglas in 1858:
"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, not to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality."
The great political insights I gathered from this film was that 19th century American politics consisted of politicians calling each other farty pants and vacus nincompoops. It was the equivalent of watching 'Dude where's my car' set in the 19th Century. If that wasn't bad enough good old honest Abe was there to make sure we suffered.
Every ten minutes good old lovely Abe would tell the out of depth mere mortals a story that would give us great depth and insight into a situation that would, within a few seconds change that persons entire outlook on life. Half way through the film I began to believe I had walked into a movie about the second coming of Christ. At one point, even the script writer had become so tired of writing Abe's story's that he added himself into the script via a character with the lines 'I know what you're going to do! You're going to tell one of your story's again! I'm not staying around for this!'. A thought probably shared by millions who've watched this film.
As for Daniel Day Lewis's Oscar winning performance. I can recreate the performance right here in text.
"Would you like some tea Abe?" ".........................................yes, i.... think I.... will"
"What do we do Abe?" "..................................This reminds me.........of a time..."
The common people of America with a child like grasp on history and inability to read a book that doesn't have pictures will declare this as one of the greatest films ever made. The historical accuracy of this film rivals that of 'Abraham Lincoln vampire hunter' It's a pure work of fiction and anybody who believes the civil war was about abolishing slavery needs to spend only ten minutes with their head in a history book to know the truth.
I will end this review with a final quote from the white messiah Abe Lincolon.
"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."
I was totally wrong.
This is not a film about Lincoln, this is a film about the 13th amendment of the constitution of USA, and everything in it is dull and slow.
It is very painful to be watching 2 and a half hour of something that it could be told maybe in 1 just hour or less in a documentary, and for people interested in the 13th amendment of the USA constitution not in Lincoln itself.
Great as Day Lewis is, he does not overwhelm the picture. Sally Field holds her own with Lewis as the anguished Mary Todd Lincoln, heartbroken and haunted by the memory of the death her son Willie. Likewise, Tommy Lee Jones is stunning as the passionate abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. There is a moment in the film where Jones's character, who has spent the better part of his life in a crusade against slavery, realizes he must compromise his principles so that the 13th Amendment might have a chance to pass. All it takes is one single shot of Jones's craggy face to fully reveal the maelstrom whirling in Stevens's soul.
The rest of the supporting cast is just as excellent. Even smaller roles (like James Spader as a greasy, underhanded cohort of Lincoln's or Hal Holbrook as a more conservative member of the Republican Party) are infused with color and life. In particular, I was impressed by David Strathairn's compelling performance as secretary of state William Seward. Seward is presented as a close confidante of Lincoln's, although the events surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment put a strain on their relationship. You can tell in many scenes that he is caught between two conflicting emotions, his admiration for Lincoln's ideals and his utter frustration with the measures Lincoln takes to make those ideals a reality. Strathairn brings out this inner turmoil – the exasperation mixed with respect, the complicity in actions with which a part of him disapproves – with sensitivity and honesty. It is a true gem of a performance.
Of course, all these performances would come to nothing without being backed up by fine writing. Tony Kushner's screenplay is richly literary and it is a pleasure to hear his words ring out. The film's dialogue crackles with intensity as it is spoken; it can be witty, humorous, perceptive, and sometimes it flows from the actors' lips like poetry. The film is also beautifully photographed. The cinematography has a quiet grandeur, not unlike Day Lewis's interpretation of Lincoln. It isn't overly ostentatious. It doesn't go out of its way to be visually striking and yet images from the film linger in my mind – for example, that shot of Lincoln and his son by the window as the Amendment is passed.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a lovingly made and well-written film with outstanding performances. The sets, costuming, and cinematography are great. This is a film to be seen.