PG Cooper: Lincoln Review

Posted: November 17, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: November 9th, 2012

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Written by: Tony Kushner

Based on: The novel “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Daniel-Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field

2011 was not Steven Spielberg’s best year as a filmmaker, at least as far as quality goes. After going four years without directing a film (his last before being Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Spielberg struck back with two underwhelming films. First was The Adventures of Tintin. The film wasn’t really bad, but I found myself unable to connect with it and was overall disappointed. Things got even worse with War Horse. Again, not a terrible film, but overall the film was overly sentimental and I couldn’t connect with it. While both films do have their strengths, I’d also say both are unworthy of Spielberg. I had hoped Spielberg would bounce back, and a biopic on Abraham Lincoln with Daniel-Day Lewis in the lead sounded like it could be the property to do it.

Despite what the title suggests, Lincoln is not an all encompassing biopic of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Instead, the film focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel-Day Lewis) efforts to pass the thirteenth constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Lincoln is aided by congress leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) secretary of state William Seward (David Strathairn). Lincoln’s struggle takes a toll on him, his wife Mary (Sally Field), and son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

The main draw and highlight of Lincoln is Daniel-Day Lewis’ performance as the sixteenth president. Lewis is one of the most praised actors of his generation and his presence always creates high expectations, expectations which are heightened by him playing such a colourful role. Lewis completely lives up to said expectations. He effortlessly slips into Lincoln’s skin and one quickly forgets they are watching a performance. Lewis also succeeds at bringing Lincoln’s troubled feelings and inner struggles to the film, but what is most impressive is how Lewis disappears into the character. Daniel-Day Lewis will likely receive an Oscar nomination for his work here and I’d say it is deserved.

The supporting cast is full of great work as well. Tommy Lee Jones gives his best performance since No Country for Old Men. While not an overly deep or layered performance, Jones injects the film with a mix of energy and sophistication while entertaining thoroughly. Sally Field delivers a lot of emotion and pain through her portrayal of Abraham’s wife Mary. Her work is very powerful and worthy of awards consideration. The rest of the cast is filled out with talented actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, Jackie Earle Haley, and John Hawkes.

One thing I will give Tintin and War Horse credit for is that they, like most Spielberg films, had top-notch production values. This is true of Lincoln as well. The costumes and art-direction are effective in immersing one in the time period the film is trying to create, and the spectacle shown in the few battle scenes is quite impressive. The film is also shot and edited well. The score from John Williams is disappointing in as much as he’s done far better work, but the music was not distracting either.

For all the good things I have to say about Lincoln, the film is hindered by the fact that at the end of the day it’s a history lesson. A well acted and well directed history lesson, but a history lesson all the same. As a history lesson, Lincoln works very well, but as a film it leaves a little to be desired. That isn’t to say Lincoln is a bad film, I just wish there was more meat to chew on.

Overall, it’s fair to say Spielberg succeeded in his goals with Lincoln. He told the story he wanted to tell, managed to get great performances from his cast, and delivered effective technical elements. The problem is the film doesn’t offer much outside of that. It works fine but I wish Spielberg had taken a risk and reached further. That said, Lincoln is a good film and Spielberg’s best since Munich. It isn’t quite the return to form I was hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Rating: B+

  1. Hunter says:

    I just saw this film today and I loved it! But I like history so maybe that’s why.
    I was wondering while I was watching it (missed the credits) whether Williams did the music or not because Spielberg goes with him a lot. I thought the music was really distracting at times and I did not like it all. I was kind of hoping that it wasn’t Williams so then I wouldn’t have to say I was displeased with him, but alas no.
    Daniel Day Lewis was amazing and I loved Tommy Lee Jones as well.
    I do kind of get what you’re saying about Spielberg not “reaching further.” On the way home after it was over, I was debating whether I liked the film better than The Master, which I would still have to say is my favorite film of 2012 so far. The main reason for that I think is you can’t really react to Lincoln that much, other than praising the performances which were great. The story itself doesn’t offer that much to think about, because I (and I think most people have as well) just accepted way back that slavery is wrong. There was no debate really to go along with this film; it just presented the story. I am hoping to see The Master again when it comes to DVD so I can revisit the questions I had about it, but Lincoln I just want to see again because I liked the characters and I liked the story. I’m not quite sure what Spielberg could have done with the story to ask more questions of the audience, and I think if he had tried to do something fancy like that it might have hurt the good things about the film. Lincoln, though I wouldn’t say it’s a veg out film necessarily as I had some suspenseful moments, I will admit that it is more of a veg out than The Master. I thought The Master was great at getting me to think though, and that’s really hard for a film to do to that degree.
    I’m glad I saw your review though, I was having a bit of trouble putting into words why I though this way, so thanks! Great write-up!

  2. vinnieh says:

    Interesting review, looks like an interesting film and I’ve heard good things about Day Lewis.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. Not a film that will keep you alive and awake non-stop, but still a film that is sure to entertain as much as it informs. However, we all know how this story ends.

  4. ianthecool says:

    Once you said its not an all encompassing biopic of his life, I thought to myself “Good.” Those types of movies are usually beyond boring (i.e. Walk the Line). I like that Spielberg is focusing on one aspect.

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