True to its name, the film Lincoln is admirable and considerate but distant. Focusing on the political maneuvering around the 13th Amendment makes for an interesting subject, and perhaps would have fit into a more focused movie, but the early scenes of shifting votes and legislative head counts removed from the title character cause the first half of Lincoln drag to the point that it becomes dull and forgettable.
It’s once the pieces are in place that Lincoln, the film and the president, come to life. The contemplation is rewarded with insight and emotion while scenes within the legislature far more dramatic than anything on CSPAN. Daniel Day Lewis once again shows that he is the greatest actor of his generation, far outshining an absolutely stellar cast. It’s his inclusion, in fact, that makes the film worth watching. Without his portrayal, Lincoln would feel as dull and cold as a stone face on a mountain. [subscribe2]
Being a Civil War buff, I enjoyed the film a lot because I knew what was going on (remembering my Civil War college class lectures from 20+ years ago along with Ken Burns' documentary).
While I agree with you about Daniel Day Lewis in his acting role, I question the executive producers decided to make this film in the first place. My guess is Spielberg (at one time or another) decided he wanted to tackle a film involving Lincoln and Day Lewis agreed to play the role. (I'm sure it didn't happen this way; I'm just simplifying things here)
Why couldn't they have chosen a better situation than the 13th Amendment? They could have had a more interesting plot with the assassination (done in this film perfunctorily and seemed forced, especially the fictitious scene when Tad is at another performance and hears about the assassination).
It would have been a more interesting film if it showed
– events that led to Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address,
– the beginning of the war when the general public in Washington DC attended the first battle with picnic baskets, thinking the war would be over after one battle and ended up running for their lives.
– his re-election campaign
– (prior to Gettysburg) trying to find a General that could win a battle
– Lincoln's struggles with his family
– how his Cabinet (after being appointed) conspired to take control of Lincoln's executive powers, thinking he was a backwoods bumpkin
While Day-Lewis probably did the best Lincoln anyone has ever seen on the screen, the events leading up to the passing of the 13th Amendment is just too esoteric for a general audience. Rather, it will make a great addition to any high school history teacher or college history professor's video library that their students can watch each year or semester.
Hey Derek, thanks for the comment.
I'm not much of a Civil War buff myself, and tried to view the movie as a document in itself independent of the real events, but that's kind of how I felt about it as well. It felt there could be one movie about Lincoln and a different one about the passing of the 13th Amendment. And the assassination at the end was completely unnecessary. I was wondering if it was going to be covered and sure enough, as shoehorned as it was.
As for why it was made, it does follow some of Spielberg's interests: war, history, slavery, hats, winning awards, etc. What's interesting is that, although it is an admirable and well-made piece of cinematic art, it'll barely end as a footnote to Spielberg's career. Makes me wonder what he can do to really add to his legacy at this point. Hell, as good as he was, I don't picture Lincoln as a standout on Daniel Day Lewis's character list. Course he'll always be Bill the Butcher to me.
In the end it's kind of a shame that the movie was rather forgettable. Spielberg + Lewis + Civil War should = a grand slam. It just didn't quite add up.
I swear I wrote a response here too and it just disappeared! Weird….