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Movie Review | Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ exposes the man behind the legend

Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 01:11

 

The smell of Oscar nominations was overwhelming after the final credits rolled on Steven Spielberg’s new historical epic, “Lincoln.” This new Spielberg creation may not be the best film of the year, but it is certainly a crowd pleaser.

“Lincoln,” this time without the vampire hunting, follows the 16th president of the United States as he tries to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress, thus making slavery illegal.

Following the rather disappointing “Nine” (2009), two-time Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis has returned to take on the role of Abraham Lincoln. Longtime fans of this method actor will be pleased to hear that he does not disappoint.

The film interweaves the stories of the Civil War and the 13th Amendment with Lincoln’s life within the White House. It also portrays the president and his wife (Sally Field) as they struggle to keep their son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from enlisting in the army, because it wouldn’t be a Spielberg film without some struggle between father and son.

Spielberg successfully reduces the monument that is Lincoln to a man by focusing on Lincoln’s interactions with his youngest son. This approach makes the film feel reminiscent of Day-Lewis’ other father-son film, “There Will Be Blood” (2007). 

The cast of this film is quite impressive and each scene presents a familiar face. Even Tufts alum David Costabile (A ’89) makes an appearance. Tommy Lee Jones gives his best performance in years — despite his distracting wig — as the strong-willed but grumpy Thaddeus, while James Spader gives a great comedic performance. He successfully balances the heavy tone of  the film as he meets with democratic members of Congress with his two equally comedic sidekicks in an attempt to get more votes for the amendment.

Despite his good performance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Lincoln’s son adds almost nothing to the plot. Similarly, Mrs. Lincoln’s grandiose statements and melodramatic personality do not align her with the film’s predominately intimate nature.

By focusing almost exclusively on the question of slavery during the Civil War, this film unfortunately tends towards the sensational. The heated debates in Congress seem a little too exciting and the moral absolutism of it all makes Lincoln a less believable character.

Furthermore, everything seems a bit too inspiring, especially when paired with the beautiful but predictable John Williams score. The music is engrossing during the film, but the film’s melodrama feels overdone and too sentimental as soon as the viewer leaves the theater.

Overall, “Lincoln” is a very good film, but it just isn’t great. The set design and costumes are spot-on, the cinematography is beautiful and the dialogue is rich and witty — you can tell that writer Tony Kushner is a playwright at heart. Kushner does his best to make Abraham Lincoln as multi-dimensional as possible, but in doing so, he actually makes the story rather one-dimensional by focusing just on the 13th Amendment, using a perspective that most viewers have already heard many times.

Minor complaints aside, “Lincoln” is still a very enjoyable film. Though there will likely be a fifth Oscar nomination for Mr. Day-Lewis, it is the supporting cast that makes this film so entertaining and they deserve more recognition than they will likely get.

This is most definitely an ensemble film. Each character serves his or her role, except for Gordon-Levitt, whose character should probably never have been included in the plot. Spielberg’s efforts toward historical accuracy are appreciable, and he even factors Lincoln’s famously high voice into the equation.

As Spielberg said during a recent interview, “We would have been a little bit criticized had we done Lincoln the way Disney does him at Epcot Center.” Spielberg has most definitely returned to top form and Daniel Day-Lewis still remains one of the finest actors in the business. Now we wait for February to see if the Academy feels the same way.

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