I took last week off, so you get two (2!) reviews today. While you were all gorging yourselves on turkey, I was looking deep into the heart and soul of America. Pay attention, supervillains, because I discovered two things that this country really, really loves: Abraham Lincoln and old, crappy video games (which you will get to read about later today).
The Plot: With the Civil War coming to a close, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) rushes to get the 13th Amendment passed while he can still convince people that abolishing slavery will force the South to surrender. Some people (Lee Pace, racists) think that this isn’t such a great idea. Some other people (Tommy Lee Jones, non-racists, Lee Pacists) think that it’s about damn time. We all know that Lincoln succeeds, but will the movie make it a compelling journey? Will Daniel Day-Lewis get the Oscar? Tune in this week—and then again in February—to find out.
Lincoln, though perhaps forty minutes too long, is definitely not a boring movie. It’s a very involving look at the political machinations that even someone like Abraham Gosh Darn Lincoln needed to use to end slavery. Seriously, think about that. We had trains and pocket watches and basic photography and you could still own a human being. What the shit, America?
Screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich), drawing in part from Doris Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, gives us a very detailed behind-the-scenes look at Civil War-era Washington, DC. We get to watch our most beloved President get creative with the definition of the word “bribe,” and employ the likes of James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Hawkes to do some things that he can’t really be seen doing.
Given Honest Abe’s status as a cultural icon, it’s kind of a refreshing take. Though I’m sure we all know that it was hard to hold America together and abolish slavery, it’s easy to think that Lincoln just kind of showed up and fixed everything because he was a lanky badass. Spielberg—who really dialed down his Spielberg-ness to direct this thing—and Kushner do a good of showing that what Lincoln did was actually really hard, you guys. Refreshing.
Less refreshing is the way the film treats Lincoln with total reverence. Yes, he is ABRAHAM LINCOLN, a figure that we should all totally revere, but it would have been nice to get some insight. We see what he had to do, but not what it was like for him to do it. If anything, we only really get a sense of what it was like to witness this amazing historical figure did these amazing things. It’s an interesting take, but one that might have been better served with the inclusion of an actual, fully-developed protagonist. Someone with feelings about something other than the 13th Amendment. The film feels like an incredibly detailed, very well-acted historical re-enactment. Maybe it is. If that’s the case, then I guess it doesn’t need characters so much as convincingly lifelike recreations of historical figures.
But enough of how a movie about Abraham Lincoln doesn’t treat him like an actual character. No shit. He’s like history’s Batman. That’s actually pretty apt. I kind of wish that Liam Neeson had been in this somewhere, telling Abe that he needed the courage to do what is necessary. Oh, well. Anyway, enough of that. You guys, I’m guessing, want to hear three things:
1) Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty great in this. However much I wish that we’d gotten to know Abe a little better, Day-Lewis really does bring him to life, telling rambling stories with all the reedy-voiced, emotionally-reserved wisdom that apparently defined him. He also looks a lot like Abraham Lincoln. Well, like a more handsome version of Abraham Lincoln. Hollywood, right?
2) How many Oscars is this thing going to get? Though I don’t usually speculate and I’m probably not even going to watch the Oscars (sober), I’d have to say at least three. Best Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Adapted Screenplay (maybe, although I’m not 100% sure if it’s deserved), and hopefully best costume or set design or something, because hot damn.
3) Tommy Lee Jones calls someone “ace” at least twice, because who really wants to be historically accurate all the time?
Lincoln is a reminder that it was hard to abolish slavery, and that great things can be accomplished by a bunch of hard-working, super-stressed people who don’t much like each other. For that, and for some great performances by Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones especially, Lincoln is very much worth seeing.
Check out my review of Wreck-It Ralph.