Friday, November 16

REVIEW: Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Historical Drama
2 hours 29 minutes
From Dreamworks, 20th Century Fox
and Reliance Entertainment

Daniel Day-Lewis
Sally Field
David Strathairn
Tommy Lee Jones
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
James Spader
Hal Holbrook
John Hawkes
Jackie Earle Haley
Tim Blake Nelson
Walton Goggins
Joseph Cross
Lee Pace
Peter McRobbie



To say that I was looking forward to seeing this film is quite an understatement.  Being Illinois-born there was little I could have done to escape the man had I wanted to.  I also came from a highly political family, including a grandfather who worked in Springfield for a couple of governors.  A few years back I twice visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield and admit to being blown away by the majesty of the exhibit and the man.
With apologies to Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey, I confess I have never seen a movie about Lincoln, at least not where he was the central focus.  I was looking forward to simply hearing someone speak as him, to bring him fully to life.
While we're at it, let's discuss two more men associated with this film who are Lincolnesque in their own ways.  One is the dean of American directors, Steven Spielberg.  Years ago, I think when he was just at the dawning of his magnificent career, I saw an interview with him where I clearly detected a school boy's enthusiasm for the movies... not for directing them but going to them.  I have never forgotten that and it in turn has caused me to pay good attention to his films and I have seen them all.  One of his films is coming up shortly in my 50 Favorite Films list and many are astonishing credits to the glittering world of film.  Lincoln stands with the best.
Daniel Day-Lewis is the best living actor.  No one is better.  I don't know if I can make that any clearer.  Take me on if you will.  He is not on my favorites list for any number of reasons, I guess, including he doesn't work enough to keep me happy, but no one seems to pull off the skills that are required to turn in work as flawless and seamless as he does.  All acting schools could close down and acting students might be better served to buy DVDs of his astonishing work.  I occasionally have not cared for a film here or there but I have always been absolutely blown away at what this man can accomplish.  He has already won two Oscars and he just may well become one of the rare triple threats.  His portrait of Lincoln is nothing short of dazzling.  All other actors here do their jobs quite well, but the truth is this is Day-Lewis' film all the way.  I do hope he thanked them, however, for their excellent support.

What I think I enjoyed most of all was getting a sense of Lincoln as a real flesh and blood person, at least as realized by Day-Lewis, Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner.  I don't care how I got this sense, I'm just glad I did.  It was great having a voice associated with him, seeing him smile, hearing him laugh.  I couldn't have been more surprised hearing Lincoln say shit than I would have been hearing a 4-year old saying it or a preacher on the pulpit.  I always have a penny or a $5 bill handy for my quickie Lincoln fix, but this was like being there, back then and I delighted in it.  I would stare and stare at Day-Lewis' face and all I saw was Abraham Lincoln.

This is not the definitive Lincoln film biography.  In fact it's not a biography at all.  It takes place in the first four months of 1865, ending, of course, with his death which is not shown at all.  We don't see him riding any mules across the Kentucky backwoods, law books in hand, nor do we learn about his apparent bipolar condition or his personal issues with racism or his now-suspected homosexuality.  We do get a glimpse into his family life.  We smile at his great love for his young son and understand his sometimes-wearing patience with his depressed wife.

The focus is on Lincoln's fervor for getting the 13th amendment to the Constitution passed, to abolish slavery.  He wanted to get it done before the war ended, which would be soon.  (It's hard to believe that doing the right thing was met with such fierce opposition.  That could never happen today.  Uh-huh).  Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier and he had secured Senate passage but getting it past the House in a timely manner was another thing entirely. 

Lincoln was our first Republican president but it is generally agreed he would be a Democrat today.

Battle scenes are served up in the opening and then a glimpse of dead soldiers toward the end.  Otherwise, we have here a movie that had a script that must have weighed 60 pounds.  There are lots and lots of words and for some the lack of action may be a turn-off.  This is for lovers of Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Lincoln, history, politics, government, the Civil War, the 13th Amendment.  There's not a car chase, ooops I mean carriage chase, to be found.

What the film accomplishes quite well is to show how this country's political system works.  Again, that may be boring to some but to political junkies, the movies don't give us many opportunities to witness Washington as we do here... to get a glimpse into the political process, the backstabbing, the intimidations, the lying, the promises, the trying but often failing to work across the aisle, the hatred of those at the top.  Good thing Washingtonians have gotten over such reprehensible behavior, huh?  No wonder Lincoln always looked so weary.

As I was heading toward the television earlier today to shut it down so I could head off to the film, I got bits and pieces on the current White House seeing the film last night and something about questioning the authenticity of how history has been portrayed.  I don't know what the beef might have been, but it is my perceived look at the history that I saw today that moved me and I am certain this film will be well-regarded for years and years to come.

What is that smell?  Do you smell it?  Do you?  It is the distinct aroma of those gold-plated Oscars. 

Kudos, too, to whoever created that magnificent poster (above).  It inspires me.

Favorite Film #21


  1. To say that I agree entirely with your post without having seen the movie at all would be ludacris, well than ludacris I am. Just in the short trailers I have watched, the exceptional acting and devotion of Day-Lewis, and for myself personally, the intrigue that I already have for Lincoln, I could not imagine anything different than what you have stated yourself. (I even watched Lincoln the Vampire Killer or Slayer or something like that... shhh...)

    Of course, I am an Illinoisian myself and having numerous field trips in my younger years to Lincoln, Springfield and New Salem, lets just say Lincoln is in in the blood.

    I encourage any and everyone to run NOT walk to the Lincoln museum in Springfield. I have been to museums across the world and I must say Lincoln in Springfield is one of my top three, by far. State of the art equipment, an amazing exhibit and unforgettable movies, including an interactive hologram.

    Thank you Bob for doing justice to Lincoln and Day-Lewis. I cannot wait to see this myself...

  2. Kyle and I will most definitely see this one, although I don't know if it will be on the big screen (we managed to get a sitter to see Skyfall though -- yay!). Kyle LOVES political history films, and well, one of my majors was history, so nuff said.

    Did you happen to read the TIME magazine article about Day-Lewis? Pretty fascinating to hear more insights on his method. I've always read that he is challenging on set because he BECOMES his character and doesn't leave it until shooting is through. Any English crew were asked not to speak in their accents (or I guess not speak at all) on set to prevent him from reverting back to his own accent. There was a funny quote from Jared Harris (plays Ulysses S. Grant) about how you can't ask him about the recent Packers game, but he would converse about shared personal interests or family.

    My favorite part of the article was when Emily Watson was talking about how intimidating it was to work with him in The Boxer because he stayed in character the entire shoot. After the shoot ended she said she asked him why he works like that. He basically said something to the effect of the fact that he owes it to the character or the real people he is playing and it's just too difficult to slip in and out of character after each take. His quote was something like "I'm not a good enough actor to do it any other way." Hilarious. He is legendary.