Film: Lincoln, a dramatic epic, as it should be
November 23rd, 2012
Omaha, NE – He may look the part, but can Daniel Day-Lewis carry Steven Spielberg’s biography? From the Movieha podcast, Ryan Syrek and Matt Lockwood take a look at Lincoln.
Ryan: By now, people have done all of the “spoiler alert, Lincoln dies in the end” jokes or clever quips about Lincoln finally having a good theater experience.
Matt: Too soon. The 13th amendment to the humor constitution states jokes about presidential assassinations are only acceptable after 200 years. Almost there.
Ryan: Actually, jokes are a good way to approach this review, as the amount of well-timed humor and genuine small moments were one of my favorite parts of the film, which isn’t so much a biography of Honest Abe as it is a dramatization of the passage of the 13th Amendment.
Matt: I’ll admit, I never thought that legislative discussion and constitutional debate would make for great cinema, but it really does. Lewis’s Lincoln tries to use the congressional power of Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, under the guidance of William Seward, played by David Straithairn, to get the amendment passed prior to the inevitable end of the war, at which point there would be no support for it.
Ryan: We do see Lincoln struggle with Mary, played by Sally Field, and his son, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but the focus stays squarely on issues of democracy, with Lincoln the president standing front and center and Lincoln the man only sometimes popping up.
Matt: That doesn’t mean Lewis doesn’t absolutely crush the performance with every controlled gesture and well-researched aspect of his role. If you told me that Spielberg had a séance and resurrected Abe or that Bill and Ted’s time machine really did bring Lincoln back to party on, I’d believe you. For all the superlatives that Lewis usually gets, maybe we’re best off just retiring the Best Actor Oscar in his name.
Ryan: I actually liked Tommy Lee Jones’s performance almost as much. It leaned on his curmudgeonly demeanor, but in a way that felt different. It felt more raw and genuine. But above all else, the whole thing felt less like a stuffy made-for-history-channel TV movie and like the big, important democratic epic it needed to be.
Matt: There aren’t a ton of disappointing elements, but Sally Field’s performance is a little over the top, and the pace can be a tad slow at times.
Ryan: The only problem I really had was the ending, which came far too close to racial idolatry and, in typical Spielberg fashion, goes on too long and is a bit too cheesy. Still, just like the man himself, don’t judge Lincoln by its end, but by all it accomplishes along the way.
Editorial note: The Movieha podcast is produced in partnership with The Reader and is available at thereader.com.
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