With twelve nominations, Steven Spielberg’s political drama ‘Lincoln’ was the bookies’ favourite in the build up to the 2013 Oscars. The subject matter, the acclaimed director and the fact that it stars two time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis as America’s greatest historical figure, at first glance, everything about this production screams ‘Oscar Best Picture Winner!’. This film seems to know how big a deal it is, which nearly causes its downfall as it relies on a few colossal performances from acting veterans to rescue it from becoming a bit of a bore.
It has been discussed as a biopic of the 16th President of the United States, the man who ended the civil war and abolished slavery, Abraham Lincoln, though the film is far from a life story. Based on the novel ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin, it focuses in on just four months, in 1865, in which Lincoln fights to pass the 13th Amendment and end slavery. Summed up, it is essentially two and a half hours of men shouting at each other in dark rooms, and for the first hour, it is incredibly slow. The back and forth dialogue is so heavy in spells and when DDL isn’t on screen, you’d be forgiven for wanting to close your eyes for a while until he comes back. The John Williams score lacks imagination and although it serves as a reminder that this is a Spielberg film, it feels at times feels dated and sounds like a regurgitated parody of his earlier work. Spielberg ditches his blockbuster cinematography and opts for stripped down simple shots in poorly lit rooms, involving various bearded men with egos that, for the first hour, seem to blend into one and if you’re not clued in on the history of American politics, it can be difficult to follow the narrative and maintain interest. Luckily with a running time of 150 minutes, it gives itself plenty of time to improve, and it certainly does.
Naming the film after the central character was to me, misleading, as instead of coming away with a real character insight, I am left wanting more, wishing to track down greater detail of who the real man was behind the political persona. Where the film rips through this barrier and offers a look into his family life is when it is at its strongest. Around the halfway mark, there are two scenes in particular which bring this film back from the dead, both showing the Lincoln family dynamic at its most vulnerable. One involving Lincoln verbally sparring with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, exceptionally played by Sally Field, and the other with his son played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who carries out another professional performance in the year he has been in everything. These moments show Lincoln not as President, but as a loving husband and as a grieving father and this is where I believe Daniel Day-Lewis excels and evokes real emotion. He beautifully underplays a big role here and aside from a couple of heartfelt outbursts that make you want to stand up and cheer, he remains reserved for the majority and focuses his performance on the subtle mannerisms of an old man battling to leave his country in a better position than it was when he first took the reins.
I had thought Lincoln would do a lot better at the Oscars, though Day-Lewis deserved his award and it was good to see Field receive a nod. I feel that as a whole, it didn’t fulfil it’s potential and I fear that without the established Hollywood names, it may have been overlooked. It is an extremely grown up film and won’t suit the average movie-goer but still very much worth seeing, though if I am honest, I won’t be in a hurry to go through it again.
See the trailer: