I could argue that Lincoln is our most famous president. From the penny to the monument in Washington, he is inescapable when it comes to American history. That being said, when I heard there was a Spielberg movie coming out with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the famous man himself, I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t blown away by the great director’s last picture “War Horse”; but I feel that he’s dusted himself off quite nicely and made a very decent film.
Day-Lewis is no stranger to large roles: recall his last Oscar win which had him harassing Eli about oil and milkshakes in There Will Be Blood. So he can yell, yeah, we all knew that. Other than that one scene in an otherwise somewhat bland movie, we can see that Lewis has acting chops but maybe hasn’t had the perfect role for them yet. Then, there was “Lincoln”.
It must be daunting to play such a character as Honest Abe, coincidentally, a term never used in the movie, thank you very much. But you wouldn’t know it, because Daniel Day-Lewis plays it with such humanity that at times you forget that this man is supposed to be the president. Everyone has their preconceived notions of what the president should be like when they enter the theater and when they exit they only have one. It’s impossible to get out of your head once you’ve seen it, Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincoln. I’m not sure if the height difference is really that tremendous between Sally Field and Lewis but on screen it seems so. But although short in stature, Sally Field has already proven herself to be a fine actress. Like Day-Lewis, she holds two Oscars already. There is little doubt in my mind that Lewis will bring home another win for this movie, his only competition seems to be coming from Bradley Cooper for “Silver Linings Playbook” and Hugh Jackman from “Les Miserables”. But unfortunately for Field, I’m not sure that she will get another Oscar this time around. Anne Hathaway seems to have her name already etched on the golden statue.
When “Lincoln” opens, it’s on a muddy battle scene. The soldiers slip and slide into the mire while tackling each other and trying to bludgeon their opponent to the death. Then, rather randomly, you switch to two black soldiers addressing the president in a somewhat fan-boy manner. They quote from the Gettysburg Address and comment about what a wonderful speech it was. They really liked the part when he said “fill in the blank.” Hmmm...if my memory serves right, it’s only modern history that remembers the Gettysburg Address for the wondeful oration that it is. Added on to that the controversy surrounding the speech itself, historians quibble over where the speech was actually given and what it really said.
That aside, I found it a little hard to engage with the film since that’s how it started. Then enters Tommy Lee Jones. Oddly enough, he’s somewhat reminiscent of his first Academy Award winning performance in “‘The Fugitive.” The tough as nails, I-don’t-care attitude really works for this film and adds levels of comic relief to the picture. But as much as I wanted to like “Lincoln” I feel it should have been titled something like “Slavery” or “The Thirteenth Amendment” because that’s what the film is really about. There is no real chronicling of the president’s life outside of the war against slavery. His childhood and rearing aside, I felt like there should have been more time devoted to the presidency itself instead of just the 13th Amendment.
But Spielberg plods on through the film and what it really is all about, as far as success goes, are the actors. The performances are stunning and they stick with you. Daniel Day-Lewis outdoes himself from his last big role and becomes the president of the United States. I feel like Spielberg is making a comeback into his better works and I hope that he keeps at it. Unfortunately for “Lincoln” it seemed like some of the (for lack of a better word) cheesiness of “War Horse” spilled over into this film making it good but not great.
Score: 3 stars out of 4