Lincoln (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 2, 2012 | 6 Comments

Lincoln (2012)5 Stars

Lincoln tells the inspiring true story of Abraham Lincoln and his attempt to persuade the House of Representatives to vote for the 13th Amendment.   In doing so slavery will be abolished. If Lincoln loses the vote he will have to wait until the war is over. And if the Union wins and the South rejoins the US, the South will surely vote against the Amendment. You probably already know how the vote turns out but you don’t know how Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and others try to persuade Democrats to help pass the Amendment. The time is mid 1860’s and the Civil War is almost over.

Steven Spielberg directs this movie. Along with the rest of the crew one of his greatest achievements in the film is accurately representing the mid 1860’s. The filmmakers create an impeccably authentic sense of time and place by vividly rendering everything from the way people talked to how African Americans were treated. All of the actors talk in a way that seemed surprisingly modern to me but since I didn’t live when the film was set I can’t criticize this aspect. Everyone who made this movie should definitely be commended for their historical accuracy. Clothing, a Civil War battle scene: the film is shockingly realistic. There are a few factual errors and goofs but none that would be painfully noticeable to a regular non-historian moviegoer. And at least Lincoln rides in a buggy rather than a VW Bug.

Lincoln (2012)
The story and events in the film are also highly factual (despite some inaccuracies). But the story itself is what makes the film so great. Anyone who knows a single thing about history will know how the climactic final vote turns out but it’s hard not to be wrapped up in the suspense. Steven Spielberg directs the film like the pro he really is. Many people are saying it’s the best film he’s made in a decade. While he is my favorite director, many of his films I haven’t seen (not because I don’t want to) simply because I’m not allowed to watch them yet. Apart from Lincoln I’ve only seen three of his films of the 2000’s. They are in chronological order: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011), and War Horse (2011). Lincoln is definitely better than the first two (albeit respectable films) but I might need to see the criminally underatted War Horse again to compare. It’s a simpler movie that you can enjoy without knowing all about the politics of a century and a half ago.

But back to the direction of Lincoln. Spielberg puts together all of his pieces in a way that reminds me of Ulysses. S. Grant commanding all of his Union soldiers. Everything is carefully constructed with the kind of precision I imagine this film must have been some very hard work for Spielberg. He has said he can direct Indiana Jones-type action flicks in his sleep. That can’t be true. Even for one of the most advanced filmmakers of all time every project comes with a new challenge. But I made an educated guess that he meant only action films like nothing he’d ever done before (an IMAX 3-D motion capture family film like the animated Tintin)  will from now on be added too his resume. Maybe that’s a good choice, though I’d love to see a fifth and final, nostalgically fun and Mutt-free, new Indy movie of course starring Harrison Ford. But for Lincoln Spielberg spent 12 years doing researching (while making other movies). I’m surprised it took that long though he wasn’t studying nonstop. Nonetheless his research shows. But was this film fun to make for him? I’d need to ask myself to find the true answer (something I’d love to do) but I’m guessing yes, in a way. The film was probably difficult and stressful at times yet rewarding and fascinating at others. And yet no matter how hard it is to create celluloid gold when a director is on the red carpet for their film’s premiere I am sure they are undeniably happy because it is at a time before people have had a chance to say their opinions of the new film. When Lincoln premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 8th  I’m sure Spielberg was a bit nervous but boy did it pay off.

Research, overseeing, and orchestrating all tiny parts were probably the three most important parts for Spielberg on this film. But every other department on the film is equally great. Most notably of course are the actors. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic in a part originally intended for Liam Neeson but was changed to Day-Lewis when Neeson was considered too old, though only five years his senior. Day-Lewis is perfect as Lincoln. Many critics have said he’s the real thing, so to speak, but no one knows the truth. If I’m not mistaken there aren’t any living film critics from a little over 150 years ago. But based  what historians have told us and photos have shown us Day-Lewis is really the real thing. He nails the part. And in fact he might be a better way to study Lincoln than any 100% factually correct history book. Every muscle movement just seems right. Only a few flaws of Lincoln are shown. Was he really so perfect? Probably not. But no one wants to create fake bad things to say about the man and that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this part as well as Day-Lewis does. This is the first film I’ve seen him in and I can already see why people are calling him our greatest living actor. He’s won two Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscars: first for Gangs of New York (2002) and then for There Will Be Blood (2007). He’s also been nominated for two Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscars: first for his breakout role in My Left Foot (1989) and then for In The Name of the Father (1993). He’ll definitely get nominated as Best Actor for Lincoln and surely win.

Mary Todd Lincoln (2012)
As for the rest of the cast there are plenty accolade deserving turns. As Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, Sally Fields turns in a quietly understated performance much like Day-Lewis’. She doesn’t get alot of screen time but is memorable in her scenes. The only other female in a promininent role is Elizabeth Keckley Gloria Reuben, who has only done B-movie action films and ER up until this point. Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar predictor Anthony Brenzican listed her as a “Consider This” possibility for Best Supporting Actress. While she has two big moments her work in the film was a little too supporting for my taste and I think Fields deserves the Oscar.

The rest of the cast is dominated by talky male politicians: David Strathairn as William Seward, Secretary of State and Lincoln’s right hand man with conflicting ideas; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, another older helper in stopping slavery; James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson, hired hands and drunken lobbyists; Michael Stuhlbarg as George Yeamen, a quiet politician with beliefs that transform; and many more nameless characters. These are all great performances.

But then there’s Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, a fierce fast talker of an all out abolitionist. Jones plays the character as a man who isn’t afraid to get across his point. In a scene of verbal jousting with Mary Todd Lincoln, Stevens surprised me by being rather confrontational with the First Lady. After the two moderate summer smashes (for their expectations) Jones is back in Oscar form. He is great as K in the Men In Black trilogy, and critics liked him for reprising that role in Men in Black 3, and playing Arnold in Hope Springs. But the pure energy Jones gives this character makes him a top contender for Best Supporting Actor.

As Lincoln’s children we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt finely playing Robert and Gulliver Mcgrath turning in a wonderful small role, though I wish he had one big emotional moment to show off his acting chops. Since it’s such a long and packed movie there’s not really any space for extra character development. That’s okay; there’s nothing I’d cut and I’m not asking for a 3 hour movie.

I hope the movie will win the Best Ensemble Cast award at the SAGs. But for individual Oscars Sally Fields may win Best Supporting Actress and Tommy Lee Jones has an even better shot at winning Best Supporting Actor. And in a busy Best Actor race Daniel-Day Lewis will claim that prize for sheer historical accuracy alone.

The script of the film by Tony Kushner is undeniably brilliant. The sharp Congress arguments, the solemn presidential speeches, and the funny “stories” are all terrifically written. Kushner does a great job and he’s already started a new Spielberg script that nobody knows about. Perhaps he could be Spielberg’s new great collaborator.

Walking Lincoln (2012)I’m now going to not technically spoil anything but those who have never heard of the death of Lincoln should stop reading! As for the final scene I was surprised we didn’t see Lincoln get shot. There’s already plenty of other disturbing scenes and you’re expected to know about the horrors of war and death going in. But the part that bothers me more is the flashback choice. In a well spoken and written speech we see Lincoln adress fellow politicians. But I already forget what he said. The Gettysburg Adress would have have been a good one to use, considering it’s perhaps his most quotable. But that could be a little over the top. Maybe a flashback to the scene a minute before where Lincoln hauntingly walks down an empty hallway to the theater. The film could’ve ended there. Another bothersome image is when the scene transitions from the candle to Lincoln’s face because it looks awfully weird. A much better ending would be after we see Willie screaming at the theater we then cut to a quick shot of people remorsing over Lincoln’s body. Then we see Lincoln walking down the corridor. And then a cut to a shot of Lincoln’s face. Then the credits roll.

Lincoln Clock (2012)There’s also no special effects and only one minor battle scene. And even the battle scene is less than a minute not an unnecessarily overlong set-piece. In fact the fight is more of a blurry flashback and probably took a day to shoot during the film’s 3 and a half month production (rather short, I feel). Meanwhile, the sounds are mainly real. The ticking of Lincoln’s clock is the real ticking. But of all of the sounds blend in which shows that the audio mixers did a great job because they didn’t draw attention to realistic noises during dramatic scenes. One type of sound that is often under the spotlight is John William’s seriously subdued score. Many have complained it’s too loud and annoying but apart from the terrific theme song William’s blends the music in with everything else.

My favorite scene is the voting climax. It’s thrilling even though I (and all decently educated people) knew what was going to happen. All of the elements blend together adding up to a thrilling whole. My other equally favorite scene is the opening. It’s very well put together. We see the horrors of the Civil War, preparing us so that we understand what people are talking about for the rest of the film. We also watch Lincoln baffled by strong minded African American soldiers and some vain white ones as well. And then finally one of the African Americans walks away reciting the Gettysburg Address. This scene is a perfect summation of why the film makes history down to earth, fascinating, and enthrallng. And that music doesn’t hurt either.

My favorite character is…..hmmmm. Oh yes! There’s a guy named Abraham Lincoln in the film. He’s portrayed as a magnificent man by Daniel-Day Lewis and we also get to see his sad side as well.

The MPAA has rated Lincoln PG-13 for a scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. Anyone studying Lincoln, slavery, or the Civil War will not see anything worse than what they’ve studied. Kids watching the film might be bored if they’re expecting an action fest (so don’t). Everyone will be occasionally disgusted by the horrific images of war. Some kids and adults will be glued to the screen thanks to the constant debating, historical significance, and gloriously old fashioned spectacle. Anyone over 12 is probably fine. I’d rate it PG-13 for the same reasons as the MPAA as well as a little more than brief strong language.

Lincoln debating (2012)Combine the witty, fascinating script by Tony Kushner, John William’s stirring score, the wonderful adaption of Doris Kearne Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a mindblowingly magnificent cast, and the epic direction of Steven Spielberg and you’ve got an excellent historical drama. I think it’ll be Argo vs Lincoln for Best Picture and for now I can’t decide which I love more. Go see this movie if you want to know why 2012 is a great year for movies and why Spielberg is our greatest living director. See it to discover the reasons Lincoln is still remembered today. He was smart, savvy, truthful, inquiring, sophisticated, and gave everyone a chance to talk. He was our 16th President. He was Abraham Lincoln. Go see this movie. To be honest I haven’t seen a more classically cinemactic movie all year.


6 Responses to “Lincoln (Flack’s Review)”

  1. Joshua Relyea
    December 5th, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    Hi Dylan! This is Josh! Great review! Have you seen Rise of the Guardians yet? I did. It was really good! I’m still in London by the way but I will come back on December 8th. You can email me if you want. See you soon!

  2. flickflack
    December 5th, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

    Thanks for the comment!!! Lincoln and Argo are my two favortes of the year so far! Can you see Argo? Lincoln? Did you see Skyfall (our dad did and he liked it but we can’t see it). Anyway, what are your favorite movies of the year? Favorite animated movie of the year? Most anticipated film? Oscar picks? See you soon and glad you loved my review!!!

  3. Steve Itkin
    December 12th, 2012 @ 7:24 am

    5 stars for both Lincoln and Argo! Agree with you totally on Lincoln. Great critique.

  4. ALI
    December 25th, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Lincoln was my favorite movie of 2012 ..great review

  5. Tal
    January 4th, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

    Wow. At 11 years old you guys write better than most adults I know. I have been aching to see this movie and your review makes me want to even more! Did it feel as long as it is?

  6. Abid
    January 12th, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    I really liked Lincoln very much and I would see it again.

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