Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field
Let’s start with a little history lesson on Lincoln, the movie, shall we? Lincoln has been on director Steven Spielberg’s plate since around 1999. In 2005, Liam Neeson was set to play Lincoln. This was met with elation as Neeson seemed like an inspired and some would say obvious choice. But due to dissatisfaction over the script, the movie was delayed and delayed and delayed. In 2010, Neeson walked away, stating he was too old for the part. But Spielberg landed himself an equally awesome alternate choice, Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis is Lincoln and for many moments in this movie it feels as if there was somehow footage of Lincoln captured and shown to us for the first time. I don’t know if Neeson would’ve been able to equal what Day-Lewis has accomplished because he nails every perceived beat of Lincoln. It’s a shame the movie can’t match that same level of excellence.
Lincoln is Steven Spielberg working less in Saving Private Ryan mode and more in Amistad mode. The movie has it’s moments, mostly involving Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones (as Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens), but Lincoln suffers from two glaring deficiencies: 1.) It feels like I’m watching a play (that may be due to screenwriter Tony Kushner, a noted playwright) and 2.) The movie it seems should have been less about Lincoln and more about the time period and a more comprehensive examination of the all the people involved.
Lincoln, wisely I must say, avoids making a movie that covers the entire life, or even the entire Presidency of Lincoln and instead puts its focus on the waning months of the Civil War as Lincoln is dealing with battling the House of Representatives in trying to pass the 13th Amendment. The movie also tries to give a little insight into the personal life of Lincoln, his relationship with his wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field) and his sons Tad and Robert (Joseph Gordon Leavitt). But Lincoln needed to be about the battle for passage of the 13th Amendment and its supporters and adversaries. It’s there, in spades, but momentum gets lost when the movie shifts its focus to the personal side. It’s a delicate balance and the personal stuff is good, but ultimately it needs to be in another movie. This also works to the disadvantage of Gordon-Levitt and Field. They’re good in the scenes they have, but they deserved to be showcased more.
And as I stated before, the movie also has a play vibe to it. In that all the scenes are set up without any real movement. The actors recite their lines but each individual scene feels wooden and lifeless. Without the stellar acting that is going on in each scene, this movie would have been a terrible bore. The movie is also shot in a 2.35 aspect ratio, but Spielberg doesn’t use this to his advantage at all when showcasing his movie. The actors don’t even move around a lot, nor does the camera. Even the short battle sequence at the beginning of the movie didn’t feel like the work of a guy who gave us that brilliant opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan.
But Day-Lewis is simply amazing as he takes the sage quiet yet authoritative approach with Lincoln (which I’m sure is accurate). It’s the complete opposite of Daniel Plainview or Bill the Butcher and I’m not lying when I say it feels like you’re really watching Lincoln. Beyond Day-Lewis the movie is filled with fantastic performances. Too bad the screenplay doesn’t do them any favors and stunts any growth the characters may have had the chance of reaching during the film.
Lincoln will probably get a ton of awards when the time comes and Day-Lewis and Jones certainly deserve anything that comes their way. I just wish the movie had more life in it and gave us more of the figurative bloody battle that happened in Washington as lines in the sand were clearly drawn over the 13th Amendment.