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Lincoln - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: A-
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Lincoln starts out much more Hollywood than historic, and if it has any definitive problem, that's it. It opens with Abraham Lincoln visiting troops in the Civil War, both black and white, all of whom treat him with a reverence that, while it may very well have existed at the time, seems reserved just for scenes in movies like this. It doesn't exactly help that the two white soldiers who approach him then tag-team reciting the Gettysburg Address from memory. And then, when they're cut off by being called away, one of the black soldiers lags behind, pauses, then finishes the recitation as he walks away.

Really? Okay. So this is the kind of movie we're about to sit through. I kind of prefer my Civil War movies to lean more toward realism than toward movie conventions, but maybe that's just me.

Actually, it's not bad, in the end. Even though the end includes more than we really needed. This is the story, specifically, of Lincoln securing the Thirteenth Amendment, and Lincoln would have been improved by sticking just to that; we kind of know what happened to the man afterward already. Besides, I'm waiting for a movie version of the spectacular book Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer -- which is a different story. Maybe a sort-of sequel.

As for this story, it's engaging enough, but it just didn't grab me emotionally the way Steven Spielberg clearly wanted it to. The "drama" here stems almost entirely from political maneuvering, as Lincoln's cabinet members work tirelessly to secure the votes needed in the House of Representatives to pass the Amendment. There's a couple Spielberg-ian family subplots, with his eldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) frustrated by his parents trying to quash his earnest desire to enlist, and his wife (Sally Field) suffering from continued grief over the loss of another son, constant headaches, and at least the hint of mental instability.

But all of that is far overshadowed by the politics at play, scene after scene of meetings between Lincoln's men and Representatives debating the merits of forcing the hand of equality. This is a long list of supporting characters, the actors' faces only vaguely familiar under their period makeup and costumes: James Spader, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley and more. One key character, staunch abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, is played by Tommy Lee Jones -- who gets, naturally, a very movie-conventional "reveal" for his character at the end of the movie.

Most of the dialogue doesn't quite ring true. Actually, the spirit of the dialogue rings true, but it never quite convinced me as being the way this all actually went down behind closed doors. Sure, the writer (Angels in America's Tony Kushner) couldn't have known exactly what was said a century and a half ago. And Kushner is an undeniably gifted writer. This movie did pull me along, and yet it always felt like it stopped just short of what it could have been.

The acting is perhaps the best part of Lincoln, and Daniel Day-Lewis in the title part is sure to get an Oscar nomination. I don't think he'll win; he's got two Oscars already and his performance may be great but it doesn't make the movie great. Daniel Day-Lewis is great; the movie is merely good. Good enough for me to feel like I didn't waste my time seeing it, but not good enough for me to say anyone else needs to rush out to it.

Spielberg has been collaborating with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski for years now, but he makes increasingly odd choices -- including in War Horse, which to be honest was a better movie. Here, perhaps because of all the politics behind closed doors, we find persistent lighting of actors in dark rooms through windows.

Lincoln seems to Have Something To Say, but if it has anything to say besides "slavery is bad," I'm not really sure what it is. There is, though, a fascinating humanization of Lincoln the man here. Never before has it been depicted how polarizing a figure he was in his time, and Day-Lewis gives him personality in a way all those iconic images of Lincoln we've grown up seeing never could. That said, Spielberg still wants you to leave the theatre reminding yourself what a great man Lincoln was. As if anyone seeing this movie needed their minds changed.

Spielberg made a valiant swing with this movie, and only slightly missed the mark. But he had a story he wanted to tell, and he told it; and he told it the only way he knows how: as a movie maker. For subject matter with this kind of cultural baggage, that's a double edged sword to say the least.

Daniel Day-Lewis is LINCOLN.

Overall: B
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