Cinepub


2012 Best Picture Round Up: Lincoln by Jamie

Spielberg’s latest historical work hits the UK shores today and it did fairly well at the nomination announcement picking up 12 in total. The question, of course, is does it deserve them?

Steven Spielberg has, to some degree, contributed a great deal to defining my childhood. I grew up watching the films he directed and the films he produced and they are responsible, at least in some way, for the person I am today. Hell, Jaws is still my favourite film and as close to a perfect film as I believe you can get. Lately, however, I have found myself becoming more and more disappointed in Spielberg’s work. I believe we all remember the terrible CGI-fest that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And the less said about that atrocious, manipulative piece of schlock called War Horse the better. Still, I was looking forward to Lincoln as I have recently started reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, upon which this film is somewhat based, and I am always a sucker for a good historical drama.

First off, I should say that this isn’t exactly a biopic and perhaps a better title for this film would have been The 13th Amendment (Or Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment in a misguided attempt to appeal to Indiana Jones fans) because that’s the era of Lincoln’s presidency that this film focuses on. The Civil War is already well underway and Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is beginning his second term as President. It is quite clear that the civil war is coming to a close and Lincoln wishes to get the 13th Amendment passed before it does because he fears that his Emancipation Proclamation, a war time measure, would be overturned by the courts when peace time resumes.

The film then focuses on all the political machinations that go on as the President attempts to get the prerequisite number of votes needed in order to ensure that the amendment passes. It also covers a few other aspects of his life such as the relationship with his wife (Sally Field) and his son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as well as the relationships between members of the House of Representatives who will be voting on the amendment, in particular the largely Republican abolitionists such as Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and the largely Democratic opposition such as Fernando Wood (Lee Pace). So yes, this is not exactly a film about the civil war. The war is certainly going on and its presence is felt constantly throughout the film but make no mistake, this is a movie about the political transpirings of the time.

Political films can, of course, be great and can make for some very tense thrillers. But Lincoln isn’t a thriller and in terms of enjoyment, this film can be a little dry. Part of the problem is that Spielberg seems to be trying to make things tense anyway, particularly in the scene where the House finally votes on the amendment. Unfortunately it can be incredibly, incredibly difficult to make things tense when you already know what’s going to happen. Showing shots of people agonising over whether to vote yay or nay on a proposition falls a little flat when you know the outcome. Yes, I know these are also trying to show how difficult it can be to do what’s right in the face of opposition but cutting away from the Speaker of the House when he’s about to read the result is clearly an effort to increase tension in a situation where no tension can exist. The only people for who this scene can illicit such a reaction are those who are completely ignorant of history and believe slavery still exists in the United States. And to those people, I’d just like to say wow. This movie must have really come as a shock to you, non-existent person.

Another problem is some of the acting. Sally Field is decent enough though her weaknesses really shine through when acting against a power house such as Day-Lewis. He, of course, is brilliant bringing everything to the role that you’d expect including Lincoln’s vocal and ambulatory peculiarities mentioned in contemporary accounts. In fact, the only problem with the performance of Lincoln is that it’s Day-Lewis playing him. Honest Abe is such a reserved, quite personality who rarely raises his voice that you can’t help hope that at some point he might just fly off the handle like Bill The Butcher or Daniel Plainview but alas he never does. I suppose that’s fair given that it’s not really in the President’s character but still…

In conclusion, Lincoln is a perfectly serviceable film particularly if you have some interest in the topics and era that it discusses but I really don’t know how well it’s going to play in the UK. I’m sure part of the reason that it’s done so well in the US is not because it’s a particularly exceptional film but because it’s a competent film about a subject which is very close to the hearts of so many American, a man who is perhaps their most revered President. Outside those shores, it may just come of as a bit of an overwordy, bloated drama directed by a man who’s relying more and more on manipulative directing techniques but with a great actor in the leading role. Three pints out of five. Laterz.

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