Let’s commence this review with a prediction – this time next year, you’ll very likely forget Steven Spielberg’s presidential drama Lincoln. That’s how much power and impact this film possess. Whatever Empire and other hapless publications out there refer to as ‘landmark filmmaking’ have obviously been invited to a special private screening dripping with booze and flowing with bribe, and therefore obligatorily hailing this as Spielberg’s masterpiece. Well, it just isn’t. Probably my opinions are invalid as I haven’t seen this in a gilded screening room whilst being drip-fed by corporate sin. Depending on your tolerance of over-stretched, painfully elaborated, needlessly protracted biopics, Lincoln will test that tolerance – just like visiting an antique museum that your grandparents were gratuitously raving about, and while it’s all very well and preening with historical importance, you’d be stumped to discover that it hasn’t changed your life. Not the slightest bit.
Which is ironic, since Lincoln is about one of history’s most important men who made important changes, a man who was actually true to his word and elicit amendments in America and not doing the exact reverse (hello, Barack), but the film itself obliterates any sense of thrill and rapture to that momentous period of change and instead tediously charts Honest Abe’s final months as the Civil War was about to be extinguished. I am no historian. I shall not judge this film in any historical aspect. I don’t pretend to know all the historical complexities of the last American Civil War. But do show me an average American who fully comprehends this part of their own history, and I’ll walk across shards of glass barefoot. Lincoln as a piece of cinema is more droning than riveting, with Spielberg and partly screenwriter Tony Kushner’s approach equivalent to that of an anaemic historian constructing a thesis that nobody asked for.
Understandably, most of the critical exaltation are heaped toward’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s sublime performance, and deservedly so. Nobody else can pull off a Method stunt the way Day-Lewis does. His turn as Abe is humane, mesmeric and immersive, a masterclass in nuance and sheer control. Even at Lincoln‘s most grandstanding moments (cue speeches), Day-Lewis refuse to showboat and rather delivers grace notes. It’s such a towering turn – practically dwarfing everyone around him, rendering all scenes without Day-Lewis drowsy and near-catatonic. Lincoln dispatches his minions (a roll-call of thespians) to bribe votes for the 13th Amendment calling for the abolition of slavery, ensuing a court-room drama with curmudgeons hurling insults at each other. It’s merely watchable, the Day-Lewis-free sequences resembling like an average History Channel show, made even less involving when Spielberg throws in the family dynamics. Clichéd role number one goes to Sally Field, whose very definition of bipolarity means haunting around the White House, hysterically screaming with grief and barricading his son’s choice to go fight in the war (a template for mother roles in war dramas). Clichéd role number two goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Abraham’s son Robert, whose very existence in the film is solely to nag his father about responsibility and patriotism and all that hokum to go fight in a war that was practically ending. And speaking of ending, we all know what happened to Lincoln’s fate, and yet Spielberg resurrects good ‘ol Abraham from the dead and re-installs a moment of speechifying, just in case you drifted off for the last two hours. Spielberg and your old simplistic sentimentality shit.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg | CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee-Jones, Lee Pace, James Spader, David Strathairn | SCREENPLAY: Tony Kushner | PRODUCER: Dreamworks/Twentieth Century Fox | RUNNING-TIME: 150 mins | GENRE: Biopic/Drama | COUNTRY: USA