Hypable Movie Review: ‘Lincoln’

11:00 am EST, November 9, 2012

Spielberg is known for creating outstanding films of high merit, and Lincoln is no exception to his stellar reputation. While Lincoln is historically accurate and features phenomenal actors, the film is definitely not geared towards the average movie-goer.

Lincoln depicts the final months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and life, mainly focusing on the month of January 1865. At the start of the film, the 16th President was just re-elected the previous November and was beginning his second term in office. Having already served four years as president, and also having the Civil War begin and continue through his first term, Lincoln was looking for a way to both end the war and fight for something he was extremely passionate about until it became law: abolishing slavery.

Thus the 13th Amendment (the abolishment of slavery) comes into play, which is what Spielberg chose as the main focus of the film. Today, American history is taught typically depicting The Union being anti-slavery; Lincoln illustrates this was not exactly the case. Just as the North and the South were torn, thus was the U.S. Congress on the issue of slavery. Spielberg demonstrates how the strict divide in The House of Representatives was frustrating for Lincoln himself who was passionate about passing the Amendment. The film details how the 13th Amendment eventually did pass, despite such differing mindsets in the Legislative Branch as well as Lincoln’s Cabinet. Additionally, Spielberg spotlights Lincoln’s personal and family life, his sometimes manipulative managing tactics, and surprisingly wonderful sense of humor.

If you’re thinking, “Wow! A Spielberg film about Abraham Lincoln! This seems like a great movie to see with the whole family over the holidays!”…don’t. Spielberg deserves praise for his film, and will probably and rightfully receive a few Oscar nominations from it, but this is not a film to just go out and see one afternoon with the family. It’s geared for a very certain audience, specifically for anyone who has a genuine and deep love of American history and political system. If you don’t find American history thrilling, you will probably view Lincoln as 150+ minutes of 19th Century white males arguing over politics, while also witnessing superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis at the same time. While almost every aspect from an overall film standpoint of Lincoln is well done and pays homage to Lincoln himself, it’s not necessarily what I’d call an entertaining and fun time at the movies. I sincerely love history, and I enjoyed Lincoln, but due to the overwhelming amount of characters and intense historical detail, I didn’t develop a deep connection to the film and left the theater feeling somewhat unfulfilled.

The praise Day-Lewis has received thus far for his portrayal of Lincoln is well earned, and I would be upset if he didn’t receive an Oscar nod for his work. Because Americans see Lincoln on a daily basis – as his bearded face is found on our $5 bill and penny – it was easy to see how well the makeup artists transformed Day-Lewis into Lincoln.  While the makeup was superb, the strangest and most mind-blowing aspect of the entire film was actually seeing Day-Lewis act as Lincoln himself. Obviously, no one in the world today knew Lincoln when he lived, so there’s no way for anyone to visually mimic Lincoln’s mannerisms.

However, due to Day-Lewis’ accurate physical transformation and his own personal studying of the 16th President from historical documents, watching Day-Lewis act in the film truly made me believe that he WAS Lincoln: everything from his hunched and light walk, caring yet passionate nature, and gentle voice. The other famed actors in the film also deserve recognition for their work, notably Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, and David Strathairn as Secretary of State Seward. The full year Day-Lewis requested from Spielberg to study every possible aspect of Lincoln prior to filming definitely benefited the film’s overall grandeur in the end.

If there is any director to pull off such a high-budget, historically true film, Spielberg is without a doubt on the shortlist of directions to do so. He and Tony Kushner (Munich) adapted part of an extremely thick biography of Lincoln – A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin – into a very believable full-length feature film, to the point where part of me half questioned whether or not Lincoln was actually filmed 150 years ago. The audience witnesses American politics at its finest and most thrilling – and we have Kushner to thank for that, as he wrote incredibly witty and brilliant dialog. I’d expect Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Makeup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also nominated for Supporting Actor and Actress (Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field) and Best Director. Spielberg has a heavy history of receiving many Oscar nominations and wins for his films – and I’m sure Lincoln won’t be any exception to that.

From a Hollywood standpoint, Lincoln is a noteworthy movie that precisely recounts the final months of Lincoln’s life. However, if you don’t have a deep appreciation of Civil War politics and history, be warned that it won’t be the most entertaining film that hits theaters this holiday season. Because it’s an adaption of a very detailed biography of Lincoln, that’s exactly what the film is: a comprehensive history book that has been turned into an excellent Spielberg film. Therefore, if you enjoy history books, then you will most likely find Spielberg’s latest film to be remarkable.

Grade: B+

Rated: PG-13 (For an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage, and brief strong language)

Lincoln opens in limited theaters on November 9, 2012, and in full theaters on November 16, 2012.

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