Has it been too long since you’ve heard the words nincompoop, shindig, and kerfuffle? Lincoln will restore your faith in humanity and vocabulary.
2012 | 150 minutes | Dir. Steven Spielberg | DreamWorks & 20th Century Fox
It was right after the revolution, right after peace had been concluded. And Ethan Allen went to London to help our new country conduct its business with the king. The English sneered at how rough we are and rude and simple-minded and on like that, everywhere he went. Til one day he was invited to the townhouse of a great English lord. Dinner was served, beverages imbibed, time passed as happens and Mr. Allen found he needed the privy. He was grateful to be directed to this. Relieved, you might say. Mr. Allen discovered on entering the water closet that the only decoration therein was a portrait of George Washington. Ethan Allen done what he came to do and returned to the drawing room. His host and the others were disappointed when he didn’t mention Washington’s portrait. And finally his lordship couldn’t resist and asked Mr. Allen had he noticed it. The picture of Washington. He had. Well what did he think of its placement? Did it seem appropriately located to Mr. Allen? And Mr. Allen said it did. The host was astounded. “Appropriate? George Washington’s likeness in a water closet?” “Yes,” said Mr. Allen, “where it will do good service. The world knows nothing will make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington.” I love that story.
-Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln
Lincoln tells the above story about George Washington, but by the end of his life the 16th US President would have just as much impact on America. Steven Speilberg and Tony Kushner’s biopic Lincoln sheds light onto the man behind the legacy.
Lincoln combines superb acting and sharp dialogue for a film just as great as its namesake. Lincoln was directed from a winning script by Tony Kushner, who also wrote Angels in America. Kushner brings the same firm grasp of the English language and American political climate to Lincoln. Kushner’s original script totaled over 900 pages, better suited for a miniseries than a movie. After some generous editing work, Kushner emerged with the final draft, which focused on the last months of the famous President’s life. During that time, President Lincoln attempted to wrestle Congress and the Confederacy into both passing the thirteenth amendment and ending the Civil War, respectively. The film shows how those two events were not mutually exclusive, but were of equal importance to Lincoln.
Like any Spielberg movie, Lincoln starts as a sweeping epic full of wide shots and A- listers, but the film feels more like Kushner’s than Spielberg’s. The entire story rests of Kushner’s dialogue. The Civil War period piece includes token shots of severed limbs and bloody amputees, but Lincoln doesn’t need shock value to keep the audience interested. Lincoln is the only film I saw this season that felt shorter than it was. The film clocks in at around three hours, but at no point does the story drag or bore. Comic relief comes in the form of a kitchen cabinet of swindlers who try persuading undecided state Representatives to Vote Yes on 13. John William’s score is appropriate and subdued, unlike his score in movies like Jaws or Schindler’s List where the music micro- manages your every emotion. Lincoln had a lot of opportunities to go over- the- top, but it treats its power with tremendous responsibility. Rather than play like an biopic along the lines of J. Edgar or John Adams, Lincoln does its serious, soft- spoken namesake perfect justice.
Although Abraham Lincoln the man holds a high honor in our nation’s conscience, the film doesn’t particularly put Lincoln on a pedestal. Of course, we remember Lincoln as a great man because he was a great man. But, he was not without vices, weaknesses, and dissenters. The film depicts a president generally loved by the people but struggling with control of his own cabinet and family. Lincoln is so passionate about freeing the slaves that he resorts to patronage and bribery to get the votes he needs to pass the amendment. Meanwhile, his nervous ninny wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) suffers from PTSD and his son Robert (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) wants more than anything to join the Union army against his parent’s wishes.
Daniel Day- Lewis leads a formidable cast of actors including Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon- Levitt and Lee Pace. Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Daniel Day- Lewis are all up for acting awards, but the entire ensemble does a cracker- jack job. You’ve gotta hand it to Spielberg. The man knows how to make a good movie. Lincoln is this year’s most nominated film, and the highest- grossing Best Picture nominee. It’s easy to see why. Everyone loved Lincoln.