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Jan 24, 2013

My Review for "LINCOLN".

           Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Gloria Reuben, Bill Raymond, David Costabile, Julie White, S. Epatha Merkerson, Elizabeth Marvel, Stephen Henderson, Adam Driver, Lukas Haas, Dane DeHaan, Colman Domingo, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Spinella, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, Jared Harris, Peter McRobbie, Gulliver McGrath, Jeremy Strong, Boris McGiver, David Warshofsky, David Oyelowo, Byron Jennings, Richard Topol, Dakin Matthews, Wayne Duvall and Gregory Itzin.


                   Steven Spielberg.


                 Lincoln is the historical drama directed by one of the greatest American filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. The idea of making a biopic on the final few days in life of the beloved American president Abraham Lincoln that would feature his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment pass by the United State House of Representatives sounded just what Spielberg would do and is something that usually fit for his kind of filmmaking. Now Lincoln is a much more intimate movie featuring what looks like the most excellent portrayal of a political figure i have seen in many years even though the overall result is far from being flawless. The movie is adapted for the screen by the well known and respected, Tony Kushner partly from a book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. While i was watching this movie, i had this feeling that something wasn't right here that something was missing. I don't know exactly what that thing was but thinking about it, I'll say this very honestly that Spielberg wasn't exactly the right filmmaker for this movie. Why? Because Lincoln feels more like a movie by Tony Kushner featuring great performance than a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. His usual style of making movies, even though he tried to do what he though would be best for this particular movie, still somehow pops out every now and then and you can't help but feel that Spielberg was uncomfortable with the kind of dense and people-just-sitting-and-talking-in-one-room approach. His use of soaring and uplifting music and overly subjective approach to a particular character is pretty much still visible here and there but as i said, he tries to at least keep everything in control. His previous live-action movie, War Horse was a very good looking movie but it failed to do anything significant because it was soaked to its very core in overly and unbelievably sympathetic and melodramatic stupidity. With Lincoln, he created a movie that justifies its position in not only his filmography, but it give us a very informative and intimate look into the life of such a big figure and it created this very healthy atmosphere where it was just not about the looks, but it was about brains as well.

                 You need to make yourself ready before watching Lincoln because basically, the movie plays too much like a historical lesson taught at a school in a form of this chamber play. Now it could have been a bad thing, fortunately this movie was in good and capable hands so it didn't happened. Once you make peace with the pace and density of the plot, believe me the experience is very rewarding and quite informative in a non-boring way. It is just that i personally had to wait for an hour or so to really start enjoying and get most out of everything that was happening on-screen. People might talk about the movie being very "American" and being difficult enough to reach out to non-American viewers which i really understand. People with an interest in history, politics and the president himself will undoubtedly, love this movie. The rest will just watch it because its an important movie and the ones who are actually interested in it thanks to the central figure it portrays will forgive its imperfectness for the same reason so in both the ways, Lincoln gets the "its an important movie alright!" vote. Lincoln begins with a very typical scene where Spielberg tries to set off things on a note where he shows us how much President Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) believed in the bigger picture. Some soldiers, both white and black are shown talking to him and he talks back in the same way to both of them. After a very typical few minutes later, everything gets quiet and the action shifts to Lincoln and his home where he becomes just another man. We are introduced to his wife First Lady Marry Todd Lincoln (Field) who we all know was a loving wife but she was emotionally unstable. That is clearly visible in the many interactions she has with Lincoln that involves either the political things or mostly about their dead child. One thing that i immediately thought Spielberg did great was the way he showed Lincoln in his home with his family. That much of intimate, personal and brilliantly observed detailing is just outstanding and it gives us a much more bigger perspective of how Lincoln was and what he used to do when he wasn't giving speeches. There is a scene where Lincoln shows how much he loves his son Tad Lincoln (McGrath) when he sees him asleep on the ground and he lies there with him for a while and then gets him up on his back and brings him to his room. That particular thing which i know is well-known about him, is what makes Lincoln an important movie to me personally because the few nitpick things it gets kind of wrong, mostly it gets them right.

                 Based on my review so far, i know most of you will wonder if I really have anything particular to say about the plot. Well i don't, because i really didn't get the most of what was happening on-screen, the whole political stuff because i wasn't paying much attention to it. Spielberg trusted that the people who'll watch this movie would be either intelligent enough or they'll know about Lincoln and the history of America which unfortunately i don't. But still as i said, the movie really gets going after a while when you are able to move along with it and its exciting above all to see all these developments that happens even though you spend most of the time trying to get into the movie. The way Lincoln is shown in this movie is just outstanding, mostly thanks to the brilliant actor Mr Daniel Day-Lewis. There is a big problem that i noticed when an actor gets to play a very big political or historical figure of importance, they try to imitate the real personality which (along with the fake looking makeup) really makes things worse. But here, Daniel Day-Lewis not just imitates Lincoln but he becomes Lincoln. His performance, his way of talking, his way of walking, the little personality traits we know about Lincoln, he gets everything so perfect that you are able to feel the vibe of an actual Abraham Lincoln walking and speaking around. One of his career best performances, though his entire career is filled with them. I love the way he in a very honest way, brings the man we all know to life with the little things that very few people know about him. Forget everything else, Day-Lewis' presence in the movie as Lincoln is the highlight of the movie and its haunting enough to give you a sense of what it would feel like when you were around such an amazing personality. Lincoln i suppose had a really good sense of humor as we see in the movie when even in the most serious situations (serious for everyone else around him) would share a humorous story from his past experience. He would not just give inspirational and triumphant speeches but share very honest and moral things with people that would involve examples from the very ordinary things rather than the big things mostly big people say to show their superiority over them. A scene in the movie that literally moved me was when Lincoln talks with a telegram operator played by Adam Driver.

                 Daniel Day-Lewis gives a historical performance, something that would be praised and remembered forever. But he is not the only one in the movie, the entire ensemble gives some really honest and superb portrayals of their characters. Sally Field in one of her best on-screen appearances in years gives a very brilliant if somewhat soapy performance but then that was how the character of Marry Tod is suppose to be. The scene where she has a breakdown in front of Lincoln over the memory of her dead son and her elder son's decision to join the army is a highlight moment. She is very troubled but she always tries to keep everything together because she realizes her significance in the life of Lincoln and how much she needs to be everywhere where she is needed, perfectly sound. Lincoln himself is very much concerned with his wife's condition and he speaks to her about it. Lincoln's personal family concerns as well as the troubles he has being a president during such war times as well as the few difficult decisions he has to make for the betterment of the country over much backlash is shown in a very sensitive light and delivered with utmost passion. Another praised performance in the movie comes from Tommy Lee Jones as the Republican Thaddeus Stevens who was always passionate about how much of a "change" the country needed, sometimes too passionate but he had a reason for it. I would say his performance though very short is equally impressive as that of Sally Field in a way that he even though is mentally stable but the honest inside-his-heart-and-soul passion that he has is so powerful and explosive that both of these characters comes off as rather same people with a reason to be this mad about something bigger. In two or three scenes where Jones shows his ability of performing in such a passion is amazing. He is fully able to portray the radical and passionate Stevens who proves to be a bit of a problem when it comes to passing the amendment just because of his roaring sense of strong and undying commitment. Lincoln himself has different ideas and plans to slowly work it out in a particular way up to the point where the amendment wont be seen as the basic step to bring-in the racial equality but just as to bring an end to the slavery once and for all. Stevens fears that eventually, Lincoln would turn his back on the initiative that he is fighting for.

                 Not just that, there are other very unsung performance in the movie. Firstly there is David Strathairn as the Secretary of State, William H. Seward. And then there is a very comical performance from James Spader who plays the Republican Party operative, William N. Bilbo. Lincoln the movie has this very witty sense in most of its part even though the main focus of the movie is a serious issue. Lincoln the president knew that he eventually he had to use a few tactics in order to get what he wanted. Its about the battle of wits, they manipulate people on their way to get what they want even though those aren't really the conventional means. That part of the movie comes off as really funny thanks in large to the performance from Spader whose character is basically the in charge of all that. Talking about its technical side, the cinematography of the movie is just fine. I don't see how its superlative in any way but its just fine. I loved the lighting work that they did, everything happens in natural lighting or either the use of candles or lanterns. It is done in a beautiful way that gives a very distinct look to the movie. The grey-ish, dusty kind of touch that there is to some really lavish production is amazing. The costume work of the movie is brilliant and of course, the makeup design is perfect. They got the basic look of Lincoln over Day-Lewis quite right. Now the frequent Spielberg collaborator, John Williams did Lincoln's score. I don't think its even nearly as good of a work as he usually does but its fine enough. The score for War Horse was wonderful but it wasn't use in the movie correctly. Here, in some of the scenes, Spielberg once again tries to vigorate our senses with a inspiring and uplifting score on some of the key moments but he keeps it in check. The scene where the amendment gets passed, its an all around a very brilliant feel-good moment. Spielberg shows each and every person that had a part in it but in a different light than he shows Lincoln as to not go into his usual territory. The ending of the movie i thought wasn't done in a good way. The shot of Lincoln going towards the door is definitely something but the way the news is disclosed leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

                 The point of view of this movie as far as the passing the amendment to end the slavery is concerned, it is shown in a very different light than one might would expect. Now the people on the other side, the black population for whom all of this was happening aren't as clearly portrayed in the movie as one would think. The movie in that way becomes too much about Lincoln and other white people with good hearts trying to do something significant for the black people. Now that doesn't becomes too much of a problem in the movie but it is definitely visible, whether it was intended actually or not. I think it was a time when the state of mind started to shift but here, it seems like this was everything Lincoln and only Lincoln wanted to do and no one else had any part in it. Anyway i know Lincoln isn't a flawless movie but its an important one. I am just so glad that Steven Spielberg got most of the things right this time and made a very amazing movie. I am going to look past all the very minute negative things i have to say about it because honestly, in the end i actually loved the movie. I respect Steven Spielberg and i am actually going to say that this is one of his better movies. 2012 was a year for directors who took risks and went for something that no one else would and brought some really imperfect but amazing movies. Spielberg opted for a much minimal approach for his movie this time and it worked mainly because of his complete reliance on the wonderfully written screenplay by Tony Kushner (apart from the actors). This densely written if too much talkative script really plays like a stage reading but is able to convey the historical lessons it was intended to do. Lincoln comes off as a powerful and absorbing as well as inspiring and restrained spectacle that you might not love literally but you would admire it immensely.

Grade: B+


  1. Good review Asif. Not a film that will keep you alive and awake non-stop, but still a film that is sure to entertain as much as it informs. However, we all know how this story ends.