Film Score: John Williams Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn & Tommy Lee Jones
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but was especially disturbing to me after watching the new Steven Spielberg film Lincoln. After marveling at his most recent historical tour de force, I couldn’t believe all of the negative criticism online that dealt with the fact that fans thought the film was “boring.” This is a major film about a major event in our history. If all fans want is action, they need to stick to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and save their money on serious dramatic films.
Based nominally on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book A Team of Rivals, the film deals only with the last few months of Lincoln’s life as he desperately (some might say presciently) attempts to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed in Congress before the Civil War ends. It’s masterful on many accounts, although there are still Spielbergian moments that can make one wince, most notably the black and white soldiers in the opening who recite his Gettysburg Address back to Lincoln. At the other end of the spectrum, Daniel Day-Lewis is the supreme Lincoln, alternately grave, folksy, sly, and commanding. His physical presence in the film is convincing and brings a genuine humanity to a legendary figure in American History.
While some of the other acting may seem over-the-top, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field come to mind, anyone who has read significantly on the era can only come to the conclusion that Speilberg expertly reigned in the actors in a way that presented far more subtle performances than the actual characters. And, of course, as with any historical drama there will be the usual spate of historical inaccuracies, the most comical being Spader’s telling Lincoln that they weren’t allowed to use fifty cent pieces because they had Lincoln’s portrait on them--no living figure has ever appeared on U.S currency. But that aside, there is a brilliant sense of period to the proceedings, an immersion into 19th Century politics, and a genuine feeling of intimacy that seems very purposeful and works very well.
The viewer is completely struck--in the same way as in the series John Adams--by what a slower time the world was then. It was a time of letters, a time of horse drawn carriages, a time without television, a time when people read for pleasure and children played with toys on the floor. One such scene comes at the end of the film, while Lincoln is at the White House waiting for word on the passage of the amendment. While the debate concludes and voting begins, he is cut back to in various scenes with his youngest son. Finally, he is simply shown standing in the middle of his office, virtually motionless, sunlight infusing the room through sheer curtains and washing out everything but his silhouette. It captures that period in time brilliantly, but I’m also sure it’s one of the scenes that make film fans think it’s boring. And that’s too bad, because it’s films like these that really show the importance of movie making as an art, and genuinely take us as far as possible in a visual medium, to the place where the written word has always been able to take us: a vicarious experience of another time and place. In Lincoln, Spielberg has succeeded admirably, and I fully expect an Academy Award nomination, if not a victory.