Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – Review

21 Jan

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Probably the most anticipated film of the awards calendar, Lincoln is set to hit cinema screens (finally) in the UK on the 25th January. Having cleaned up in terms of the nominations at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Oscars, expectations are high on this biopic looking at the last few months of American President Abraham Lincoln’s life as he attempts to pass the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives and abolish slavery forever.

With a stellar cast including Academy Award nominees Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and honest Abe himself, Daniel Day-Lewis, from the moment the public first got a glimpse at the posters for the film, we all Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.08.42knew that this was going to be something special. With Steven Spielberg at the helm and Tony Kushner drafting the screenplay, this dialogue heavy insight into one of the most riveting moments of American history is in my mind, not one to be missed.

At a whopping 150 minutes however, I can almost guarantee that this film will divide audiences. We as a country are aware of this historic moment, and are all grateful for its passing. However, unlike American children and children before them we’re not brought up learning about this in great detail. So audiences in the UK are interested in this story, and invest trust in it’s telling because of Spielberg and Daniel-Day Lewis’s portfolio of previous work, but we’re not necessarily as passionate as our friends across the pond. You may think this about a number of dramatized storylines, which we have watched over the years in cinema, but with a highly anticipated world release, audiences perceptions once they have seen this film, will be vastly different because of the style in which it takes.

For example, in my screening alone, there were many different opinions. Some loved it like myself, whilst others felt the pace too slow and wondered where they would get two and a half hours of their life back from. The question is, what is it about this film that makes us all wonder whether or not it’s worth a watch?

The good elements are its simplicity in the storytelling. Spielberg in various interviews talks about his fascination with Lincoln from childhood, and his repertoire of historical films such as Schindler’s List and Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.09.09Empire of the Sun speak for themselves. But with Lincoln as a much-loved president who achieved so much in his time in office, the starting point was finding the right angle in which to tell his story. Should the film become an epic tale of boy, to man, to President? Or is there something a little more focused that shows all those key elements in a shorter period of time. Abraham Lincoln had a very rare quality about himself where he’s almost mythical, what we do know of him are his achievements, and that he was loved by the people, but we didn’t know enough about the man himself, he seems to almost be a representative of America’s beliefs and maybe just an emblem, but not in some respects a real living breathing man. So it’s this side of him and the forgotten family man that Spielberg brings to our screens so expertly.

This film couldn’t have been made without Daniel Day-Lewis in my opinion, and I’m sure this is shared by others, the ultimate method actor, immersive in every sense of this character, I found myself looking, after the screening, at pictures of the real Abraham Lincoln and completely amazed by the resemblance. Clever make-up you may think, but without Day-Lewis’s masterful approach all the make up in the world wouldn’t have made you forget you’re watching a film and feel like you’re peeping into a glimpse of history quite like this. From his shuffles to voice and passive nature, you cannot fault Day-Lewis’s characterization and awards a-plenty should be placed firmly in his hands.

Hot on his heels, and in parts edging his performance out, is Tommy Lee Jones as radical pro-abolitionScreen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.08.18 supporter Thaddeus Stephens. His quick tongued, imposing authority guides us through the House of Representative scenes mesmerizingly when Day Lewis is not present. The surprising humour within this film falls mainly on the shoulders of Jones, whose quick quips and great uses of words which instantly make you chuckle such as ‘nincompoop’ are well executed with effortless ease and gives a welcomed light relief in parts. This Texan actor is back to his best in this film and like Day-Lewis picks his key moments to truly shine and provide award worthy performances throughout. Rounding out the rest of the cast, there are no performances big or small that fall through the cracks. Every character is carefully considered and acted with dedication and conviction, most notably through David Strathairn, James Spader and Hal Holbrook.

What people may not like about this film however, is its theatrical format. Taking a step back from glossy visuals, Spielberg and Kushner have opted for a narrative heavy portrayal. With this comes a lot of information about legislation and you realize just the sheer volume of characters that are featuring throughout. My recommendation is that you go back for a second viewing, it is well worth it to fully Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.07.56understand the complexities of the Amendment and indeed this film. However Spielberg devotees may find this quite tough to handle. From the opening scene you feel like you are about to embark on another Saving Private Ryan-esq extended battle scene, but this is only a momentary glimpse, which isn’t returned to until Lincoln goes back to truly experience the aftermath of the Civil War.

Some of the disappointment in this format may also be down to the marketing of the film, which is really a continual gripe of mine.  The trailer (arguably quite rightly) showcases some of the more epic scenes of the film, however the majority of the time you’re watching less grandeur scenes of men in cold rooms stoking fires, sitting around desks and trying to work out how to work to procure votes – the film has sharp and quick moving dialogue which is a lot to take in and follow, but it is none the less still engaging and clever, just perhaps what is not expected initially.

So, should you go watch this film? Well, yes, its pacing may seem problematic, but the content is so strong that you will find Lincoln strangely exciting and in some parts heart-warming. This is essentially the story of Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.07.26a strong minded man who could foresee what was best for the future and not just now, and with a gentile manner and determined heart, this ensemble shows the public just why Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s best loved Presidents. It’s a turn away from Spielberg’s normal formats, but one should view that as an exciting new chapter in his body of work. Finally if you walk out with a new interest in this historical story, you can also read the book which Spielberg used as his main reference guide for the film, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerans Goodwin.

4 Stars

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