Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln Review

Maturation might seem like a bad word in Hollywood's obsession for the teenage audience. But when it comes to filmmaker Stephen Spielberg, it's a term that can define the master director's works since the nineties. If you start with his European art film like Schindler's List (1993) to this year's Lincoln, you get a filmmaker who's interested in making serious movies. Yes, you get an occasional foray into the commercial like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) but Speilberg's career will be highlighted by his last twenty years of making movies with something serious to say. And with Lincoln, Speilberg has created another masterpiece.

The film Lincoln is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It covers the final four months of President Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) life. Specifically, the film is about Lincoln's urgent mission to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolishes slavery passed through Congress. The problems facing Lincoln is a House of Representatives in which he does not have the votes. Lincoln must muster his political resources while trying to end the Civil War. He must also reign in the more radical abolitionists Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones)

A good film starts with a good screenplay. A great film starts with a great screenplay. Tony Kushner (Angels in America) has created a great screenplay that highlights the struggle to get the votes for the Thirteenth Amendment's passage. And he doesn't sugarcoat it. There's near bribery and arm twisting by Lincoln. Yes, it was probably impossible to say anything negative about Lincoln, the screenplay does reflect the great difficulties, personal problems from his wife's neurosis and professional ones dealing with the Civil War. Yet for all it's seriousness, the film depicts nice touches of humor especially when President Lincoln wants to tell a funny story.

As Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is astounding. He gives his Lincoln, a tenor's timbre which some say is historically accurate. He is a man who has seen too much bloodshed and injustice. He'll end the war on his terms but he is also a forgiving man. James Spader
adds some comic relief as William Bilbo, Lincoln's lobbyist. It's one of the few times that a lobbyist is depicted in a positive light. Frankly, all the roles are performed well. But it's Tommy Lee Jones' Congressman Stevens that nearly steals the show and will likely get him an Oscar nomination. Jones' facial moods range from rage to passion to disappointment to love.

As far as Spielberg's direction, many filmmakers could learn much from him. There are very few hand-held camera shots that would distract from the drama. Camera movements are slow but dramatic. Some wide shots feature Lincoln walking away from the conversation as if to depict his loneliness. And while Speilberg gets the right emotions from his actors, he knows when to get out of the way. These instincts are what make a great filmmaker.

Lincoln is one of the finest films of the year. It raises important issues about humanity; issues about race and prejudice. The grade is A +.

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