Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lincoln




Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg



Great acting, set design and overall production value may make Lincoln a fantastic period piece, but the extremely biased script and bland direction only serves to make it a severely lacking biographical drama.

At this point in time, I would say Daniel Day-Lewis is very clearly my favorite actor. His range is phenomenal and ability to completely escape into his characters is parallel to none. So, it goes without saying that he is easily this film's biggest draw. It may not be among his personal best, but this is still one of the year's most powerful and striking performances. Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't just play Abraham Lincoln. He becomes him. And while his screen time is relatively limited (all things considered), and the material surrounding him is shoddy to say the least, his performance alone makes this a worthwhile experience.

The performances, above everything else, is the main attraction of this movie. With DDL (obviously) highlighting the fantastic cast, supporting performers which include Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, and many others are all at the top of their game. Overall, this is one the most well-acted movies I've seen all year. The costume/set design is terrific, the music is exactly as you would expect from a John Williams composition, and the cinematography and use of lighting is all well-executed. As a technical piece, this is an excellent movie. It's just a shame they didn't take the story in a more interesting, less generic direction.

Spielberg may well be the most famous and influential man in Hollywood, but he doesn't seem to remember how to make great movies. His sterile, easily-digestible style of film-making has become a major complaint of mine, and his work here is no exception. He takes absolutely no risks in this movie. No outside perspectives, insights, or different forms of presentation. Picture a standard biopic on Lincoln, which largely focuses on the topic of slavery. Now picture any Spielberg movie from the last 10 years. Combine the two and let your imagination fill in the blanks. This movie is exactly as you would imagine it would be. Sadly, that just isn't enough for me. I wanted to see Spielberg try something more, take a few risks, and not just repeat himself.

The complete lack of equality in this film's script is nauseating. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad; they never go more in-depth than this black & white characterization. Spader, Hawkes, and Nelson portray the most seedy of the heroic characters, who provide a decent amount of humor as they wheel and deal in the most obviously sleazy ways. The movie chooses to portray them as comic relief, a choice that's hard to argue with, though it's hard to ignore the fact that they could have just as easily been viewed as the most ammoral, malicious, and vile human beings on the planet had they represented the opposing side of the debate over slavery. It's this kind of one-sidedness that makes Lincoln lack the factual elements much needed in a biopic. I'm not saying slavery is/was good, but I am saying it would have been nice to not see the line separating heroes and villains drawn so definitely and without any inclination of fairness and understanding to those involved in the side supporting slavery.

I think of of this movie's biggest problems is hardly even it's own fault. Abraham Lincoln is far too often deified, forcing any portrait of his character/actions to support this thought. Instead of revealing any inner turmoil for him to overcome, all of his obstacles are externalized. As a story focusing on Lincoln's attempts to abolish slavery, we are given enough to perhaps satisfy a casual viewer. But as a biographical study of the man, we are shown far too little for this to be even remotely successful. The film's fear of showing Lincoln acting as if he were anything less than a God among men is evident throughout the entire running time: The moment he speaks, the roaring room of 50 shouting men falls silent to hear his softly spoken 2-minute monologues.

I enjoyed this movie. Disregarding my seemingly never-ending complaints about it, the technical precision, brilliant acting, and sharp dialogue are enough to make this a solidly entertaining experience. But that's about as far as it goes.
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