Last year Steven Spielberg bored us with the exhaustively dull War Horse and this year he closely follows it with Lincoln. Aside from Daniel Day-Lewis‘ mesmerizing performance, the film struggles keeping you awake for a majority of its lengthy running time and part of that can be contributed to the film’s need to almost entirely take place inside of tiny rooms, with President Lincoln simply talking to people. If you’re in the mood for a nearly three hour chat between Lincoln and various others then perhaps you might find this film enjoyable, but those looking for an epic drama might want to look elsewhere.
The Civil War continues as President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) attempts to stop the war both on the battlefield and off in his attempt to emancipate slaves once and for all. Lincoln’s wife (Sally Field) fears the worst as he continues to pour his heart and soul into a belief that most don’t agree with. Lincoln closely follows one of America’s best known presidents as he changes the country’s history forever.
Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln attempts to swing for the fences and become that moving and powerful biopic that we’ve always wanted, and why shouldn’t he? The man has more than established himself as a director and pairing up with the always on the spot Daniel Day-Lewis seems like the best choice anyone could make, but unfortunately Spielberg drops the ball where it counts the most, which is adapting the script.
While it might portray the events as realistically as possible, in doing so it becomes a very boring achievement. Sure, Spielberg gets his Oscar-worthy performance out of Daniel Day-Lewis, who delivers speech after speech in the high-pitched squeal that Lincoln apparently had, yet no one dared to deliver on-screen. DDL really does become Lincoln and that shouldn’t surprise a soul. He embodies the tired and almost out of life president on his last legs, continuing to fight for such an important cause.
His walk and talk more than convinces you that this is the best film version of Lincoln now (and probably ever). But a film can’t rely solely on one perfect performance, especially with such an active cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does nothing with the 15 minutes of screen time that he has and the dozen other minor roles (John Hawkes, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jackie Earle Haley and David Strathairn) barely make an impact. These supporting roles should be helping the film expand beyond DDL‘s performance, but they don’t. They’re merely footnotes and quickly forgotten as the film moves from the White House to the streets for another speech.
Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones are the two most fleshed out characters, aside from Lincoln and even combined, they barely scratch the surface. Field’s constantly nagging approach to the character of Lincoln’s wife might ring true, but it surely doesn’t help humanize the couple. It paints Lincoln up to be a saint while his wife comes off as a bitchy pain in the neck.
Tommy Lee Jones‘ performance feels like something plucked out of nowhere and dropped into a period piece. Tommy struggles losing that blank stare in his eyes and most of the film is spent with him giving speeches that are half spoken in an uninterested mumble. The wig is icing on the cake and at least they acknowledge just how silly it looks.
Spielberg doesn’t completely strike out, but he does come extremely close. Frequent collaborator John Williams delivers another forcefully moody score that firmly guides your each and every emotion, never allowing you to feel it for yourself. It blends well with Spielberg’s sappy direction that teases war sequences, but settles for quiet corners and the safest and most bland approaches to almost every character.
Lincoln is passable cinema at best. Those looking for a speech-after-speech approach to Lincoln’s life, one that is full of Lincoln simply telling stories whenever someone asks a single question, might enjoy this film. It paints Lincoln out to be that annoying relative or co-worker that constantly shifts conversation whenever you try and bring up a point. It’s irritating to no end and never breaks form.
Those looking for a story about Lincoln and his struggle with trying to end a war while also trying to end slavery will only get their lips wet when watching this film. Spielberg cleverly dips his toes into the Civil War and even goes as far as introducing 15 weightless characters that probably had much more of an impact on Lincoln’s real life. The problem here is Spielberg is too focused on Lincoln to allow anyone else some screen time. The film’s strongest point (DDL‘s performance) essentially becomes a crutch, allowing for nothing better to rise and for everything else to rely solely on the performance.
Lincoln is a frustrating experience that eventually becomes a certified snoozer. I’d be hard-pressed to fully recommend this to anyone expecting greatness, because the film is far from it. Historical accuracy doesn’t always make for the best film. Just saying.
Lincoln – 6.5/10