Scene It All Before: Lincoln
Early Oscar buzz on Lincoln is enormous. All the critics are raving about it as one of the best movies of the year. But does that necessarily make it one worthy to see. Certainly if you are an Oscar snob like most people who blog about movies are I’m certain you will love it. But most of the story is a procedural on how to get a law passed. Will that be gripping enough? That rests solely on the shoulders of Daniel Day-Lewis. Lincoln is a wonderfully made movie told in a compelling manner but be prepared for heavy dialogue in place of any Civil War action.
The movie focuses on the last months of the Civil War and Lincoln’s attempt to pass the 13th amendment. By this time most of the public is tired of the blood shed of the war and most of Georgia has already been burned to the ground. In fact, any hope of seeing the intense war sequence that we know Spielberg is capable of are put to bed early and are only used in relation to passing the amendment. He wanted to use this time in history to pass the amendment before the South could rejoin the Union and thus end slavery once and for all.
I Imagine 10 years from now maybe sooner, school children will be required to watch this movie and probably find themselves with their heads on their desks. Yes it is a very well done movie but it also happens to be extremely dry as well. A lot of heavy dialogue, a lot of long speeches, and a fair share of colonial language that makes the movie feel longer than it is. At its core the movie is a political procedural, you could show it right after a school house rock video and see which one is clearer.
The best part of the movie though is without a doubt Daniel Day-Lewis who transformed into Lincoln for somewhere close to a year, and may still be rocking the hat just because I’m not sure if he knows how to go back to being Daniel. He wasn’t over the top with the characterization and they made this Lincoln seem like a wise paternal figure more than anything else. He portrayed his Lincoln with a sunny demeanor in public understanding the power he had, while in a more personal setting they showed him bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Spielberg as you can expect creates some very beautiful scenes and unlike his attempt in War Horse I don’t think he over romanticizes the movie. He doesn’t try and make it poignant and an allegory for today’s society. He simply sheds some light on the mystique of President Lincoln. It may have helped that John Williams seems to soften everything up and he allows the performances to thrive.
But he didn’t shy away from the underhanded things as well. President Lincoln knew what it would take to pass such a controversial law especially with so many people having such strong beliefs on the issue. He recruited some “influencers” to help get things done. These three men were a lighthearted break and helped soften up a rather dry movie. Other instances of this include whenever Lincoln would share a story with the people around him.
The only thing I wish had been done differently is the end of the movie. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that slavery is abolished or that Lincoln was assassinated but both are depicted poorly in the movie. The ratification of the amendment is so anti-climactic considering the whole movie was building towards it; it really leaves a poor taste in your mouth. There was a chance for Spielberg to redeem himself as Lincoln leaves the White House and heads to the theater, if the movie had ended there it would have been much more satisfactory. But instead you go inside and see a play, it’s almost like those last moments were forced on him. But to be fair leaving out the assassination would probably make the audience feel they got jipped.
No doubt Lincoln will win many awards as we get closer to that time. Just don’t think of this as a popcorn flick, think of it instead as an espresso movie where you can go and see it and then hold it above your friend’s heads that you saw the movie and have since become a better person. You know, if that’s your thing. A-