Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lincoln (2012) - Movie Review

I'm just waiting for the day when someone asks why Daniel Day-Lewis is on the five dollar bill.

Has there been any President that's been the focus of more films than Abraham Lincoln?  Is there any President more iconic?  Even if you're not a history buff, everyone knows the broad strokes of what he did.  So, how do you make a movie about him that's still interesting?  Well, you start by getting the best actor on the planet to play the lead role.  Then, you focus the story not on the fighting in the Civil War, but more on the man and his drive add the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Based on the book 'Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln' by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln gives us a look at the lengths he went to to ensure the Thirteenth Amendment passed in the House of Representatives.  He faced considerable opposition, and even if every member of his party voted yes, they'd still fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it.  People were going to need some convincing, and Lincoln brings in a group of "negotiators" (James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes) to sweeten the deal for those who's votes can be bought.  It's interesting to see that even back then you had these shady, back door political dealings.  The timing was also a factor, as the passing of the amendment would end the war, but if the South surrendered first the amendment would even be less likely to pass.  There was lots of talk about something called the Emancipation Proclamation which I'm not familiar with, because I don't listen to hip hop.  Yes, I'm kidding and quoting South Park.

Since the movie doesn't focus on any Civil War battles, Lincoln features lots of long conversations and meaningful looks at one another.  You might ask, why I would give Lincoln a pass for doing then when I slam movies like Twilight for doing the same thing?  It's mainly due to the strength of the performances, and the fact that what these guys are discussing is one of the most important things in American history.  It takes those strong performances to really feel the weight of it though.  You never lose sight of how important this was, and how much stress it brought them. There's a scene early in the film where Lincoln and Mary Todd are arguing, and he pauses for a few seconds before speaking. You can feel the weight of the world on his shoulders during this moment.

It's interesting when you compare this to Steven Spielberg's last Oscar-bait movie, War Horse, which was also a period piece.  While both films looked great and have the same attention to detail, the difference this time around is that besides the amazing performances, the score isn't as sweeping, and you're watching situations and characters that you actually care about.  It does have the same sentimentality, but I felt it was earned here.  War Horse got a best picture nomination despite nobody getting nominated for their acting in the film  That wont be the same case with Lincoln.

Daniel Day-Lewis gives an amazing performance, but that kind of goes without saying.  How many ways can you continue to describe how great an actor is?  In all seriousness, Lewis is so immersed in the role that you forget after a while what you're watching an actor, and you feel like you're actually watching the man.  If the real Lincoln was anything like what Lewis portrayed on screen, you can see why so many people were willing to risk their lives for him.  He's an Oscar lock at this point.  It's interesting to note that Liam Neeson was originally attached to the role, but dropped out because he said he had grown too old for the role.  I found that odd considering that Lincoln was 56 when he died, and Neeson is only 60.  It would have been interesting if he had stayed in the role, since the guy they played Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Benjamin Walker) bears a strong resemblance to Neeson.

Not to be outdone was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.  He was even more passionate about abolition than Lincoln was, and he steals every scene he's in.  As much as I expect DDL to get nominated for an Oscar, I also expect TLJ to get nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  It's probably the most underrated performance of the year, and he already was fantastic in Hope Springs.

Sally Field was also great. She was very emotional, and was powerful when she stood her ground against their opponents. I wouldn't be surprised to see her name mentioned during Oscar time either.  The whole supporting cast reads like a "who's who" of top tier actors.  I can imagine there was a dogfight between these guys trying to get a role in the film.  I'm sure some of them agreed to any sized role just to be in it.  I wonder if casting director Avy Kaufman's phone ever stopped ringing.  There are so many great actors here that it hard to mention them all.

David Strahairn plays Secretary of State William Seward and really excels in the role.  If you're a fan of SyFy's Alphas, it's great to see him in a mainstream role.  James Spader also really stood out me after his eccentric role on The Office.  Then, you've got guys like likely Oscar nominee John Hawkes (for The Sessions), or Joseph Gordon-Levitt (playing Lincoln's son) with smaller roles. Even the under-appreciated Jared Harris shows up as the Fifty-Dollar Bill.  Oh, and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is here, too.  The supporting cast is stacked with stars.  It's kind of like when you look at roster for the Yankees or Lakers and wonder how they ever lose a game.

Oh, and how awesome must it be for Lee Pace to be in both Lincoln and Breaking Dawn - Part Two the same weekend?  I always thought he got a raw deal when Pushing Daises was cancelled, and I've been waiting for him to get some meatier roles. It looks like it's happening now.

Lincoln is a fantastically acted film that doesn't focus on the typical aspects of Lincoln's life or the Civil War.  For that reason alone, I enjoyed the film and was able to stay interested.  However, if you're looking for something that is a true biopic on Lincoln or focused more on the Civil War, you're likely to be disappointed. It's definitely worth seeing for the performances alone though.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Nice review Erik. It can be a bit of a snooze-fest at times, but it still kept me intrigued and interested in where it was going with itself. Problem is, we all know how it ends.

    1. Thanks, Dan. That's the problem with movies about historical figures like this. We all know how it's going to end. I just appreciated that they took a different angle to the familiar stories about the Civil War or his assassination.