Monday, October 8, 2012

A few thoughts on Lincoln

I attended the not so secret screening of "Lincoln"at the New York Film Festival tonight. I was hoping the secret film is Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty but I was pleasantly surprised with Lincoln. I expected it to be a fuddy duddy reverential history lesson and since it's Spielberg I thought it would be sappy.

The movie is a sorta thriller about the behind the scenes machinations of passing the 13th amendment and abolishing slavery. The players include Lincoln, his family, his cabinet, some congress me and other politicians and military men.

I was really surprised by the humor in the movie. Even though it is still a history lesson that felt too stiff and sedate for the most part, there was a lot of humor. It protrayed Lincoln not just as the great and savvy politician he is but also as a man prone to telling long stories. While the stories were long, there were also laughs. It took time to show his relationships with his family and the his staff at the White House.

Daniel Day Lewis is very good as Abe. I know there were complaints online about the voice but it works within the movie context. And I'm sure he did his research and that''s how Lincoln sounded. It's a quiet performance with no flash and no big scenes; in fact he is not in the most thrilling scene.

Sally Field aquits herself admirably as Mary Todd Lincoln and delivers the movie's biggest laugh in a scene with Tommy Lee Jones. She also gets a big screaming match with Day Lewis that was a wallop of a dramatic scene.

 Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens with a lot of wit and sarcasm. I would venture to say that his performance will be an awards magnet. Not just for the humor but because his character is the only only that has an emotional and personal connection to the historical events that all the others lack.

There is David Strathairn - as William Seward - who starts strong but fades away and off camera two thirds into the movie. Joseph Gordon Levitt felt too contemporary as Robert Todd Lincoln specially when he first appears. There are also roles for John Hawkes, James Spader (gets a lot of laughs), Jackie Earle Hailey, Walton Goggins, Jared Harris... lots of men in gray wigs and beards.

Below the line from cinematography to art direction to costumes are all first rate. And I applaud Spielberg and his screenwriter Tony Kushner for not going the full lifetime but rather concentrating on an smaller interesting story.

All in all entertaining historical story but not exactly a wow movie.

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