The Gustavian Weekly

Lincoln gets high marks with broad audience

By Justin Feit Calendar Editor | March 22, 2013 | variety

Justin_FeitThe United States House of Representatives bickers at each other across the Congressional floor; Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s proverbial throats over the next bill. This scene, commonplace in American politics today, serves as the backdrop for the long-awaited Stephen Spielberg biopic, Lincoln.

This film—starring one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, fresh off of his record third Best Actor Oscar—taps into the cutthroat world of American politics as well as progressive issues, as the president strives to get Congress to emancipate the slaves.

Lincoln boasts an incredibly talented cast, including former Oscar winners Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, as well as other Hollywood big shots like John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Lincoln’s cast is probably the deepest in talent of any recent film.

The film looks into the life of one of America’s most heralded presidents as he tries to end slavery in the United States. Lincoln must try to deal with Southern leaders as the nation nears the end of the Civil War, but he must complete the most challenging task of getting the members of Congress to pass the amendment, which seems impossible given the venomous scenes which Spielberg commands with his precision behind the camera.

Day-Lewis absolutely immerses himself in the role, to the point where he actually becomes Lincoln.  Field gives some redemption to one of history’s less redemptive characters, and Jones’s steely soliloquies to the rest of Congress are Tommy Lee Jones being Tommy Lee Jones, but that’s what we as audience members have come to enjoy from his performances.  Most of all, screenwriter Tony Kushner deserves the greatest praise for his tour de force script that has some of the juiciest dialogue in the last few years.

However, all is not well in this film as it gets bogged down by some of Spielberg’s recent traits.  Don’t get me wrong, Stephen Spielberg is a god of filmmaking, but over the last decade or so, his films have gotten more syrupy, like he has softened, and while that isn’t always a bad thing, it ruins some of the most powerful scenes in the film.

The last scene in the film is the worst offender, as an unnecessary flashback shot in the most unnecessary way takes away a little too much of the mystique the film has instilled throughout about Abe. Additionally, John Williams—also a titan of the film industry—composes a score that is just too cheesy for me to handle.

Don’t be discouraged to see this film even though some elements are not ideal because the elements that do work—and there are a lot of them—work in the biggest way imaginable.  This is an important film for the United States during these trying times, and who knows?  Maybe the overwrought score of John Williams is what this country needs. I give Lincoln four out of five stars.