Monday, November 19, 2012
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, David Straithairn, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Historical Drama
I felt like Steven Spielberg's latest epic, Lincoln, was dragging a bit in the early stages because I'd gotten the impression from the previews that this was to be a sweeping drama--with battle scenes and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the womenfolk pining for their men away in the war. That's because I hadn't yet grasped that Lincoln was to be a film of limited scope. An intensely personal drama about the 16th president of the United States in the latter part of his second term in office, and his fight to get the thirteenth amendment to the constitution through congress--abolishing slavery once and for all.
Indeed, the appalling carnage of the Civil War is given scant attention. A brief battle scene in the beginning, and the aftermath of a battle near the end. But an artist knows just how much and what shade of a certain color to use, and Spielberg is an artist. Thus the spectre of the president riding through a battlefield with the myriad corpses of young men desultorily draped across one other is one of a number of goosebump-inducing scenes in the movie, and imparts to us the primary truth of any war--and that is its futility.
Not to imply that there isn't spectacle here. The spectacle is provided by the costume and makeup department, as much of the high drama in Lincoln occurs in the chambers of the House of Representatives, as the debate over what was arguably the most monumental decision that body has ever taken up for consideration rages. These dudes are nothing if not authentic looking, with their mutton-chop cheeks and hair down to there. (Makes me think about back in the day when an employer tried to get under my skin about my beard, implying that guys who wear beards are "hiding something." I'd have liked to have seen him say something like that to old Honest Abe. HE'D SQUASH YOU LIKE A BUG!)
There are more Oscar-worthy performances in Lincoln than you can shake a porkpie hat at. Daniel Day-Lewis melts and merges into the character of the president like butter on a hot baked potato. His Lincoln is an avuncular man who relates humorous anecdotes to get his point across, and sometimes to ingratiate himself with members of the opposite political party (the democrats) to sway them over to his side. Observing that backroom deals where someone is promised some kind of perk or promotion in exchange for his vote has always been going on in our government is sort of strangely...comforting.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and I wouldn't be surprised if Tommy Lee Jones--as representative Thaddeus Stevens--gets a nod for Best Supporting Actor.
Sally Field is also superb as the president's wife, though if the real Mary Todd Lincoln had been as comely as Ms. Field, I doubt that their relationship would have been quite as stormy as it was. A pretty face can go a long ways toward inducing a man to put up with a little craziness.
Lincoln is a film that serves to remind us that history has judged (and will judge) harshly those who attempt to deny basic human rights--be it based on race, gender, or sexual preference.