It’s tough to say what we have more of: Movies that Steven Spielberg attaches his name to, or the number of reviews for Steven Spielberg movies. Maybe Mr. Spielberg should take his name and endorse my reviews so views and comments will finally pop up.
The hype surrounding Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln has swelled so much that it seems to have left Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in the dust. Does anyone else find it creepy how close Anthony Hopkins name is to Anthony Perkins from Psycho?
But enough digressing, we’re here to talk about a movie guaranteed to sweep up Oscars simply for being the cinematic equivalent of a typecast. And if you think Oscar bait can only work so many times, need we remember the eye-rolling predictability of The King’s Speech winning Best Picture two years ago? The very premise of Lincoln is a catalyst for what the senile blokes at the Academy are suckers for: Lincoln’s strives to pass the thirteenth Amendment. Some have even taken the film’s plot as reason to stake claims that it really isn’t about Lincoln, that the film deserves–get this–a different title.
This type of claim only then begs the argument: Just where does the focus lie? Is it really on Lincoln or the days leading up (and in) to the abolishment of slavery? Or is it really about the role Lincoln played in the closing days of the Civil War, leading to one of history’s greatest landmarks? It’s ultimately one of those cases where what you bring and expect from the film is going to directly impact how you react. What must be made clear is that this is far from a character study, since the naysayers do have a point in that Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t have much to work with. In fact, I can’t even point to an arc in the Lincoln we’re given on-screen. What’s at his disposal is less a character and more a role, a piece of history. The man is literally a walking speech, a story waiting to happen (which the film pokes fun at). We get so much of this that I actually wanted less talking and more silent emoting or brief responses between characters. Our first scene with Lincoln actually accomplishes this in a proper way, making the President seem more human and less like a piece of theater. It’s just a shame this doesn’t define his other key moments and might leave you constantly disillusioned.
If Lewis isn’t convincing us with his make-up and testing us with his speeches, then it’s Tommy Lee Jones who sweeps up our attention and laughing strings. As Thaddeus Stevens, Jones is the political embodiment of a riot–and then some. The man practically steals what short scene him and Lewis share as he proves to be that scumbag character you’d disparage in real life but want to elect as a character.
Even for a slow, two and a half hour movie, there are still points of Lincoln that feel tragically abandoned. One key area is with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lincoln’s son, who’s only given so much time and doesn’t leave much of an impression, save one bitter scene. The film seems to subtly hint at the development of a relationship or dynamic between the two, yet this is never truly realized. Granted, this asks another whole plotline, and all the while the focus is stuck on the 13th Amendment. Still, we definitely could have had a few minutes more with Lincoln Jr. so as to get a plate without room for sides. Most of the interactions take place between our political characters and, if not them, then Lincoln and Sally Field as his wife. The two have a rough passion in both their roles and between each other, which makes the realization they’re married simultaneously convincing and shocking.
Clearly, Lincoln seems to be filmed and released for the sake of being a showcase for its talented cast. This is all some of us really need in order to become immersed and, if your theater is anything like mine (people three to four times my age) then an applause is only inevitable. But something tells me the reasons for such a reaction will vary from person to person.