If you like Broadway plays, politics and really talented actors at the top of their game, you’ll like Lincoln.
Tony Kushner wrote Lincoln. He also wrote Angels in America and co-wrote Spielberg’s Munich. He’s won a Tony. And most of all, he’s a playwright. This aspect of him shines through more than anything else in this film. Lincoln is the one of the talkiest films I’ve seen in recent years, but not in a Sorkin-y rapid-fire kind of way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you’re a fan of smart, complex films and long, interesting Broadway plays, then you’ll love it.
The film covers the last few months of Lincoln’s (a serious Best Actor contender and sure-fire nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) personal and political life (mostly the latter), as he tries to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress and secure a peace agreement with the Confederacy.
Throughout the film, Lincoln interacts with a seemingly endless cast of supporting players that each fight for screen time. Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife, is played beautifully by Sally Field, as is his son, Robert, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. James Spader steals a couple scenes, and every actor I’ve ever liked manages to sneak their way into the film (Hal Holbrook, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Costabile, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Jackie Earle Haley, David Straithairn, Bruce McGill, John Hawkes, and Stephen McKinley Henderson among others). However, the real scene stealer and serious Oscar contender is Tommy Lee Jones, who’s Thaddeus Stevens deserves a film of his own.
It is in the scenes with Stevens that the film proves its mettle. Stevens was an ingenious, clever and alienating radical Republican who fought valiantly for the legalization of the black vote… over 100 years before it was legalized. Lincoln being a great compromiser, his discussions with the totally valid and right Stevens over how much to fight for civil rights are the most interesting and complex parts of the film. Stevens is also formidably funny, providing some of the film’s best wit.
The film does have its flaws. It has a slow start and things feel dragged out by deliberately slow pacing on director Steven Spielberg‘s part. The editing by Michael Kahn could have streamlined things for certain, and the runtime could easily be a half-hour shorter without losing any plot or dialogue. Things seem to linger just a bit longer than they need to. Even the ending should have ended at a certain shot, but instead chose to go farther. I thought Janusz Kaminski‘s cinematography was gorgeous, but some of my cinematographer friends were concerned with his supposed overuse of lights. Overall though, I’m being nitpicky. John Williams is on his game and it’s clear Spielberg knows how to tug the heartstrings.
Like Flight, I applaud its ambition to be smart, challenge its audience and slightly more adult. More importantly though, after War Horse, it’s awesome to see Spielberg back to his usual brilliant self.
OVERALL: Definitely worth the price of admission. Definitely an easy Oscar contender for Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor. Beyond that… we’ll see.