Lincoln reviews

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby MovieFan » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:50 am

I don't think Jones gave the best performance out of his nominated group, I think Waltz and Hoffman were much better, even if they are co-leads. I find it baffling all this praise Jones is getting, im hoping its not another undeserved Oscar for him.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:26 am

Tommy Lee ones is a scene stealer in that he steals all the scenes he's in. He doesn't steal the film, though. That does belong to Daniel Day-Lewis.

Early speculation was that Jones would/could be the film's only Oscar winner as he was up against a quartet of fellow former winners of which his performance was he strongest. However since the nominations came out and DDL continues to win all the prizes, he's virtually certain to win an unprecedented third Best Actor Oscar while Jones' chances, though still strong, are now seen as a bit tougher.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby MovieFan » Sat Feb 02, 2013 7:34 am

After seeing this im absolutely baffled some people thought Tommy Lee Jones was the scene stealer, no way is he as good (or has as difficult a task) as Day-Lewis. DDL was phenomenal though and would be a deserving winner (though I think Phoenix gave the performance of his career and is a little more deserving).

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby flipp525 » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:41 pm

I really liked your analysis of that opening scene, too, FilmFan. At the time, I found it to be almost relentlessly hokey (especially when I first saw it in the trailer). But the idea of fleshing out the monolithic quality of "Lincoln the Man" is as good an interpretation as I could wish for that scene—and I hope Spielberg was at least, attempting to go there with it.

I got to see Lincoln at a special pre-screening at the Landmark E Street theater which is a block or two away from Ford's Theater and the Peterson House across the street. I took a little stroll past both of them after the film. It was pretty moving.
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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:16 pm

I think this is an interesting analysis of that scene. I hadn't really noticed the symbolism of Lincoln sitting there in his memorial pose, but how frequently have we heard people in movies talking to Lincoln's statue. Isn't it a sort of "tradition" in D.C.? I may not be thinking of this correctly, but I find that prospective imagery very compelling.
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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:51 am

ITALIANO wrote: Oh, even here there are scenes (one at the very beginning) that will make any cynical European like me cringe - yet for the most part the movie is solid, intelligent, and even quite absorbing despite its length and the amount of mostly political talk.


I agree that the opening scene is a little over-the-top, but I think that it is there for a good purpose. Right at the start, Kushner and Spielberg set up the myth of Abraham Lincoln...he is sitting in the pose of the monument, black and white soldiers are coming up to him in awe, people are already memorizing his speeches, he is considered a god-like figure. Then, immediately after that, they begin to deconstruct that myth. They show Lincoln as a real person, who had to give back-door deals to achieve what he wanted and who even goes against his own conscience at times for what he considers the greater good. I think one of the great achievements of Lincoln is that it is not afraid to paint the political process, warts and all, as a dirty business where even doing something as ideological and life-changing as abolition means playing dirty games, sacrificing lives and playing mind games. You have to set up that this is not a traditional, glossed-over, idealizing portrait of a Great Man, but in order to do that you have to give a little of that at the beginning.
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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:48 am

Lincoln is a very American tribute to an American of the past, complete with the by-now inevitable American flags. The American this time is a President, and there are moments when I was reminded of that other much-nominated "monument" to a US President, the immortal, yet understandably forgotten, film Wilson. Only this time - and maybe that's why those flags aren't so annoying - the man undeniably deserves the tribute, and the tribute is reasonably well-made. Oh, even here there are scenes (one at the very beginning) that will make any cynical European like me cringe - yet for the most part the movie is solid, intelligent, and even quite absorbing despite its length and the amount of mostly political talk. (Tony Kushner has done a good job). It's never more than a good movie, and it's not a movie I will ever see a second time - but even good movies seem to be a rarity these days, so when you get something which while definitely not exciting is still professional and not stupid, you can't complain. And the acting is, of course, excellent: nothing can prevent Daniel Day-Lewis from getting his third Oscar, and his minimalistic, subtle yet very charismatic portrayal of an even too familiar character is certainly an actor's personal triumph (though I'd still probably vote for Phoenix); Tommy Lee Jones will also probably win and even in his case it will be a good choice. I have more doubts about Sally Field - too old for her role but also, most crucially, too basically "healthy" to make her character's "dark" side completely believable. But it's still a competent performance.

And it's true, as some reviewers here have written, that Italian politicians should see this movie. Not because it's profound - it isn't - but because it's simple. Yet even the most simple things are (politically) very complicated here.

And now the question of the day: will Lincoln win Best Picture? The most logical answer would be yes - for a combination of factors: most nominations, good box-office, good reviews, best picture nominee with corresponding best director nod, a few other wins which are sure or almost sure. There's something missing though. It's not a masterpiece, ok, but that's never been a problem - the problem is that it's not a very emotional experience either. Despite its subject, and despite the period it's set in, it's never really "epic" (which, considering that Spielberg's idea of "epic" today seems to be something like War Horse, is probably a good thing). It's a bit too claustrophobic (my old parents complained that its images were "too dark"), and for a historical drama it's very intimate - a well-executed chamber piece. I don't know now if this will prove more fatal than Argo's lack of a Best Director nomination - and I admit that if Argo gets even just Best Editing the final envelope will be a question mark till they open it. But I'd say that, considering Oscar history, Lincoln could still make it.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Leeder » Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:53 pm

dws1982 wrote:
Sabin wrote:And then after Thaddeus Stevens goes to sleep with his housekeeper black "wife" (accurate? at all?).

Yes. Stevens and Lydia Smith actually raised four sons together, and she was commonly called "Mrs. Stevens" by their neighbors. Smith was actually a very successful businesswoman--she ran a boarding house in DC catered to politicians and diplomats, and had several real-estate investments. Oddly, the website for the Stevens & Smith Historical site does everything it can to convince us that their relationship was strictly platonic, although it almost certainly wasn't.


No review I've come across has mentioned that Stevens is the basis for Austin Stoneman in The Birth of a Nation, complete with the conniving mulatto mistress named Lydia.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Okri » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:33 pm

Pretty much. I think I recall you mentioning that she often took most of her history/analysis from stronger/better writers/historians, and that was stated in conjunction with this book. My bad.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:05 pm

Okri wrote:I loved this movie a great deal. Am very curious to hear Tee's take (I recall he wasn't enthralled with Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography, which this credits).

Actually I wouldn't have commented on Team of Rivals, because I haven't read it. I did read her Lyndon Johnson book, back in the 70s, and though it was OK then. But what I might have said that you remember is, I thought her book Wait Till Next Year -- about her childhood devotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers -- borderline insipid, written at about the level of a 15-year old. And her political analysis on TV strikes me as pretty shallow. I'd be placing more of my hope onto Tony Kushner's contributions to Lincoln than to hers.

Unhappily, given the current flow of my life, I'm not going to be seeing Lincoln (or any of the other contenders in this seemingly lively race) soon, unless I can persuade friends-with-screeners to be generous.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby dws1982 » Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:25 am

Sabin wrote:And then after Thaddeus Stevens goes to sleep with his housekeeper black "wife" (accurate? at all?).

Yes. Stevens and Lydia Smith actually raised four sons together, and she was commonly called "Mrs. Stevens" by their neighbors. Smith was actually a very successful businesswoman--she ran a boarding house in DC catered to politicians and diplomats, and had several real-estate investments. Oddly, the website for the Stevens & Smith Historical site does everything it can to convince us that their relationship was strictly platonic, although it almost certainly wasn't.

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Okri » Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:48 pm

I loved this movie a great deal. Am very curious to hear Tee's take (I recall he wasn't enthralled with Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography, which this credits).

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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby criddic3 » Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:42 pm

Sabin wrote:a short eternity.


:lol:
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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:26 pm

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

The very first scene of Lincoln almost stands as a microcosm of the film itself as Abraham Lincoln talks to a small group of Union Soldiers black and white alike. It starts with a hackneyed war scene and then a clichéd start to a conversation, but then we hear and see Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln and become entranced with his presence as the dialogue and recitation continues. Nobody can remember the end of the Gettysburg address...except at the end, the disillusioned Black Soldier knows the speech well enough to finish it for the others even though they've long since departed and it's just him and Lincoln. And then the soldier walks away, leaving our sixteenth President alone to think.

Smell that bullshit!

It's impossible for me to talk about Lincoln, a movie I generally liked quite a bit, without mentioning a large flaw and a small one. The latter flaw? This is the worst shot film of the Spielberg/Kaminski collaboration that I can think of. Quite a bit of it is indeed beautiful in conception and execution, but much of it is quite ungainly, some of the worst lit images of Spielberg's recent career. The second flaw is that this film loses considerable steam as it moves towards the ending, an ending which actively -- ACTIVELY! -- sucks like nothing I've seen this year. I'll come back to this in a few...

Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is incredible. I think the notices he's getting are a bit underrating his achievement here. This is the warmest acting he's done in ages, never mimicry, mythic yet very human. The film bends over backwards to give you the entirety of the Lincoln Experience and it's somewhat successful in that regard. Some scenes written to bring us into Lincoln, The Father and Lincoln, The Husband feel a bit forced, but there are some moments of incredible nuance in them. I especially liked the scene where Robert walks to enlist so Abraham Lincoln takes him to visit some of the amputees in the hospital. Clichéd, right? But the way it's filmed, Lincoln just walks in, says some humble hellos, sees one of the soldiers from the beginning and says "Oh, you I know!", and keeps going without missing a beat. I think that represents one of the strongest aspects of Lincoln. He's almost like a creature out of time in this era and there's a not-so-veiled frustration to deal with his vision of how history shall now turn. It's quite funny in that sense! Which leads to another engaging component of this film: the political maneuvering. This stuff is incredibly engaging and funny, at times almost/mercifully plotless. This succeeds in being a film in which I would follow pretty much every single character off into their own film without a second thought. This is another one of those casually stellar ensembles that Steven Spielberg throws together in which everybody lends exemplary support. Aside from Day-Lewis and (in a weak field) Field, Tommy Lee Jones will likely get the nomination because his persona fits with gruff righteousness of Thaddeus Stevens quite well, and because of Stevens' (in this film) personal ties to the passage of the Amendment. He has some pretty outstanding verbal takedown scenes. But for me, the man who stole the show was James Spader's William Bilboe, almost unrecognizable behind corpulence, awful clothing, and a mustache, and with seemingly little regard for anything beyond the mechanics of the shitty job that he's quite well suited for. Very funny work by Spader.

I think the best way to put it is that Lincoln is very much a History Channel movie with terrific acting and directing, and some very strong writing in between the narrative signposting. I like the History Channel so I thought most of it was candy. Whether or not many others do, I'm interested in seeing. If they do respond to it, I think in large part it will be from the experience of seeing Daniel Day-Lewis' as Abraham Lincoln. It will be taken as a gift of sorts. They're not entirely wrong.


...SPOILERS...

The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment demonstrates that Spielberg doesn't entirely know how he wants us to feel. It's dramatic, but how? It's corny but not funny. It's long but not suspenseful. We keep cutting back to Lincoln to show him playing with his son so as to usher in the future of this country. And then it passes and jubilation commences. This is a big moment in our country's history that Spielberg sees as just that: big. Every different emotion, none of them entirely successful. And then after Thaddeus Stevens goes to sleep with his housekeeper black "wife" (accurate? at all?), we cut to a small, endless passage of Lincoln finishing up the Civil War porch-side with Ulysses S. Grant, surveying the carnage of war. There is a pretty good scene between him and Seward meeting with the Vice President of the Confederacy, but it's extremely dull and devoid of focus for what can't be too long a span of time but feels like a short eternity.

And then? He goes to the theater. A nice, predictable farewell scene to his Cabinet, then he walks away from us as the White House housekeeper watches. And we're in the playhouse, waiting, waiting, waiting. The President's son is there. Watching the play. Watching the play...

And then a man runs on stage and says THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT! AT THE FORD THEATER! Pandaemonium breaks loose.

Ah! You got me! Thought I was at the play where the President was shot! It's actually the playhouse down the street. Well-played! Very good bait and switch, Mr. Spielberg! That's what we need in the moment of the assassination of our Sixteenth President...irony.

And then he lays in state. And then he delivers his speech, ending slavery. And then we fade out. Berf.
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Re: Lincoln reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:46 pm

Man, this place is a dead zone. No one even thought to post these reviews.

Variety

Lincoln

By Peter Debruge

Abraham Lincoln may not technically be the subject of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," but Daniel Day-Lewis is inarguably its star, delivering an unimpeachable performance as the United States' 16th president in a shrewd, stately and somewhat stuffy drama focused on a narrow yet defining chapter of Lincoln's life: abolishing slavery via the passage of a Constitutional amendment. Though historians will surely find room to quibble, every choice Day-Lewis makes lends dignity and gravitas to America's most revered figure, resulting in an event movie whose commercial and critical fate rides on the reputations of not just Lincoln, but the esteemed creative team as well.
Too seldom does American cinema deal with the country's most shameful policy: the paradox by which a nation founded on equality might allow the subjugation and servitude of one race to persist for nearly a century. Spielberg, however, has faced the issue head-on, not just once ("The Color Purple") or twice ("Amistad"), but three times, confronting it most directly -- at the very core of the policy -- in "Lincoln." The title functions as something of a misnomer, considering that the president here serves as the instrument to emancipation and not the actual focus of the film, as if "Amistad" had been released as "Quincy Adams."

Liberally adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 book "Team of Rivals," Tony Kushner's script dramatizes the behind-the-scenes story of the wheeling and dealing required to pass the 13th Amendment -- undoubtedly the legacy for which Lincoln hoped to be remembered, not realizing how compelling audiences would find every aspect of his private life 144 years later.

The theater-trained scribe, who previously co-wrote "Munich" for the director, defies what admirers expect of a Spielberg-made Lincoln biopic. In place of vicarious emotion and tour de force filmmaking, "Lincoln" offers a largely static intellectual reappraisal of the great orator, limiting not only the scenery chewing but also the scenery itself in what amounts to Spielberg's most play-like production yet; it's a style that will keep many viewers at arm's length.

Emphasizing talk over action, Kushner concentrates on Lincoln's strategy of forcing an unpopular and recently defeated policy through a lame-duck House of Representatives. Enlisting three buffoonish vote-buyers (James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson), the executive doesn't hesitate to exploit his immense powers, which extend to offering cushy government jobs, pardons and other presidential privileges to those willing to embrace his position.

This is politics as it is really played, yet few writers have found a way to make it as compelling as Kushner does here. That success owes in part to the extensive character-actor ensemble Spielberg and casting director Avy Kaufman have enlisted, repaying them with dramatic roles for not only Lincoln's entire cabinet (most prominently David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward), but more than a dozen key allies and opponents of the 13th Amendment, including Lee Pace as a showboating Democrat, Michael Stuhlbarg as a conscience-conflicted swing voter and David Costabile as the doubting Thomas among Lincoln's closest supporters.

Despite occasional digressions into spectacular but artificial-looking Civil War battlefields, the action is rowdiest on the floor of Congress, where Republican representative Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) trades scathing barbs with such ideological rivals as George Pendleton (Peter McRobbie, who more closely resembles frown-creased portraits of the real-life Stevens than Jones does). Though the film inevitably deals with Lincoln's assassination, notably played offscreen, the climax comes during the Congressional vote itself, in which Spielberg allows the names of history's heroes to ring out the way he previously did those saved on Schindler's list. Even more effective is the way Kushner integrates the full text of the Gettysburg Address and the 13th Amendment into the body of the film.

Still, since audiences inevitably prefer personal intrigue to the inner workings of politics, Kushner laces "Lincoln" with details about first lady "Molly" (Sally Field), as Abe called his wife, Mary, and sons Tad (Gulliver McGrath) and Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who withdraws from Harvard in order to enlist in the Union army, despite his father's adamant demands to the contrary. Still, these human-interest scenes seem to get in the way of the story at hand, offering valuable, intimate glimpses of the Lincolns as seldom seen before, yet inorganic to the abolition of slavery -- save one powerful scene, when Mary, having already lost one son and loathe to watch Robert perish in the Civil War, publicly threatens her husband, "If you fail to acquire the necessary votes, woe unto you, you will have to answer to me." Spielberg and Kushner hold this truth to be self-evident: that behind every powerful man is a woman pushing him toward greatness.

Informed largely by Goodwin's research, "Lincoln" presents an image of the president very different from the melancholy figure so often seen before. Such crushing grief falls instead to Field, whose long-suffering Mary endured debilitating migraines and deep depression after the death of their son Willie, but also scandalously overspent in her efforts to outfit the White House -- and herself -- to a level she felt befitting the first family. Curiously, Mary was a decade Abraham's junior, though Field is actually a decade older than Day-Lewis, creating an odd, almost maternal dynamic between the two actors.

Meanwhile, Day-Lewis plays Lincoln as a physically awkward but not unhandsome figure, gentle with his children, uncomfortable with ceremony (his disdain of calfskin gloves becomes a running joke), and firm when needed with colleagues who could not always see the wisdom in the man some considered "the capitulating compromiser." This Lincoln is a lover of theater and avid raconteur who easily quotes from Shakespeare and scripture, a man who problem-solves via storytelling -- an impression that naturally flatters those in Spielberg and Kushner's profession.

Perhaps that explains the staginess of "Lincoln's" telling, right down to the creak of the boards under the great orator's feet and d.p. Janusz Kaminski's conservative framing, which recalls either classic prosceniums or heavily shadowed Renaissance paintings. Though incongruous with the psychological realism that Kushner, through elevated dialogue, aims to achieve, this iconic style suits such a beloved persona.

And yet, Lincoln's life takes a backseat to the ideological battle between two opposing ideas -- an end to slavery, or an end to war. The result looks as much like a Natural History Museum diorama as it sounds: a respectful but waxy re-creation that feels somehow awe-inspiring yet chillingly lifeless to behold, the great exception being Jones' alternately blistering and sage turn as Stevens.

Production values are as elegant as one would expect from Spielberg, grittier but no less impressionistic than last year's "War Horse." John Williams' score, which seemingly incorporates hymns, marches and other period music, offers vital but unobtrusive support.


Hollywood Reporter

Lincoln: Film Review
9:00 PM PDT 11/1/2012 by Todd McCarthy
The Bottom Line
An absorbing, densely packed, sometimes funny telling of the 16th president's masterful effort in manipulating the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the 16th president in the historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner.
Far from being a traditional biographical drama, Lincoln dedicates itself to doing something very few Hollywood films have ever attempted, much less succeeded at: showing, from historical example, how our political system works in an intimate procedural and personal manner. That the case in point is the hair-breadth passage by the House of Representatives of the epochal 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and that the principal orchestrator is President Abraham Lincoln in the last days of his life endow Steven Spielberg's film with a great theme and subject, which are honored with intelligence, humor and relative restraint. Tony Kushner's densely packed script has been directed by Spielberg in an efficient, unpretentious way that suggests Michael Curtiz at Warner Bros. in the 1940s, right down to the rogue's gallery of great character actors in a multitude of bewhiskered supporting roles backing up a first-rate leading performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. The wall-to-wall talk and lack of much Civil War action might give off the aroma of schoolroom medicine to some, but the elemental drama being played out, bolstered by the prestige of the participants and a big push by Disney, should make this rare film about American history pay off commercially.

Concentrating on the tumultuous period between January 1865 and the conclusion of the Civil War on April 9 and Lincoln's assassination five days later, on Good Friday, this is history that plays out mostly in wood-paneled rooms darkened by thick drapes and heavy furniture and, increasingly, in the intimate House chamber where the strength of the anti-abolitionist Democrats will be tested against Lincoln's moderates and the more zealous anti-slavery radicals of the young Republican Party.

Occasionally, there are glimpses of life outside the inner sanctums of government, first on the battlefield, where black Union troops join in the vicious hand-to-hand combat where the mud renders the gray and blue uniforms all but indistinguishable, then in the dusty streets of the nation's capital and in the verdant surrounding countryside.

The stiffest challenge facing Kushner was to lay out enough exposition in the early going to give viewers their bearings while simultaneously jump-starting the film's dramatic movement. Quite a bit of information simply has to be dropped in quickly to get it over with -- Mary Todd Lincoln's continuing depression over the death of a son three years earlier, her husband's re-election the previous November, the need for Lincoln to win over some 20 Democrats to achieve the two-thirds majority required to pass -- but the estimable playwright who won a Pulitzer for 1992's Angels in America mostly manages to cover so many mandatory issues by plausibly making them the subjects of the characters' vivid conversation.

Particularly helpful in this regard are the intimate talks between Lincoln (Day-Lewis) and his most valued adviser, Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), as well with his party's founder Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook, a famous Lincoln in his own time). Having signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and gotten easy Senate passage of the 13th Amendment the previous April, Lincoln is determined to push the House to act quickly and put his signature on the new law by Feb. 1, before the war is likely to end.

What follows is a course in political persuasion in all its forms: cajoling, intimidation, promises, horse-trading, strong-arming and intellectual persuasion, down-home style. In conversation and physical movement, Lincoln is a deliberate fellow who takes his time, a country lawyer whose rumpled exterior conceals abiding principles and an iron will, a man of no personal vanity or fancy education who is nevertheless unafraid to cite Euclid, notably in his equation of equality = fairness = justice, with which Lincoln frames the slavery issue.

Fundamentally unhappy in his family life with his almost continually complaining wife Mary (a very good Sally Field), who despairs of being condemned to “four more years in this terrible house,” and oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a college lad desperate to enlist in the Army over his parents' objections, Lincoln seems to find the greatest pleasure in spinning amusing life-lesson yarns dating to his lawyering days. The film accrues much-needed levity from these interludes, less from the stories themselves than from the reactions of his captive audiences; by the third or fourth time Lincoln embarks on one of his tales, the polite attention paid by his listeners has descended to “here-he-goes-again” eye-rolling and ill-concealed smirking.

As he demonstrated in Angels in America, Kushner -- who co-wrote Munich for Spielberg -- is adept at juggling a huge number of characters without confusion. One of the main subplots details the efforts of three Republican roustabouts (James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson) to use any means necessary to change some minds on the Democratic side while at Lincoln's behest delaying a high-level Confederate delegation making its way to Washington to talk peace. There also are occasional glimpses of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) trying to discern whether the South is ready to call it quits.

But increasingly, attention focuses on Pennsylvania Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a lifelong activist for absolute equality among the races philosophically opposed to going along with a watered-down law. The loss of his and other radical Republicans' support would spell disaster for Lincoln who, in all events, faces a massive challenge that calls on all the political, personal and persuasive skills he has honed over a lifetime.

At the film's center, then, lies one of the remarkable characters in world history at the critical moment of his life. As Walt Whitman said of Lincoln (as he did of himself), “he contained multitudes,” and Day-Lewis' sly, slow-burn performance wonderfully fulfills this description. Gangly, grizzled and, as his wife was known to say, “not pretty,” this Lincoln plainly shows his humble origins and is more disheveled than his Washington colleagues. With an astonishing physical resemblance to the real man, Day-Lewis excels when shifting into what was perhaps Lincoln's most comfortable mode, that of frisky storyteller, especially in the way he seems to anticipate and relish his listeners' reactions.

But he also is a hard-nosed negotiator with that critical attribute of great politicians in a democracy: an unyielding inner core of principle cloaked by a strategic willingness to compromise in the interests of getting his way. A long scene in which he hashes things out with his cabinet (the single most explicit evocation of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, the one credited partial source of the screenplay) vividly exhibits his skills in action. The rare moments when Lincoln loses his temper are startling but also hint that his outbursts might be preplanned for effect.

Lincoln seems most ill-at-ease in domestic exchanges with his family, especially with his harping wife, to whose repetitive complaints her husband cannot possibly invent any new answers, even if her sorrow is rooted in genuine depression.

The dramatic and raucous vote on the 13th Amendment is both exhilarating and unexpectedly humorous, with much shouting, threatening and fist-waving, fence-straddling Democrats being shamed by their colleagues and a gallery audience (including some blacks) hanging on every yeah and nay, climaxed, of course, by the exaltation of victory. Appomattox, with proud Gen. Robert E. Lee high on his white horse, is briefly shown, and Kushner and Spielberg have invented a novel way of portraying the fateful events at Ford's Theatre that doesn't even show John Wilkes Booth.

For whatever reason, the filmmakers have skipped the ripe opportunity to portray one of the most extraordinary and haunting episodes of this entire period, that of Lincoln's nearly solitary early-morning walk through the streets of Richmond. The partly burning city had just been abandoned by the Confederate government, and Lincoln increasingly became surrounded by awestruck, suddenly free blacks who could scarcely believe who had just entered their midst, some reacting as if he were Jesus incarnate. Finally arriving at the capitol building, he entered the office of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, sat in his chair and quietly drank a glass of water.

In the event, Spielberg directs in a to-the-point, self-effacing style, with only minor instances of artificially inflated emotionalism and a humor that mostly undercuts eruptions of self-importance. It's a conscientious piece of work very much in the service of the material, in the manner of the good old Hollywood pros, without frills or grandiosity. At the same time, however, it lacks that final larger dimension and poetic sense such as can be found in John Ford's great 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln, to which Spielberg's film is a biographical and thematic bookend.

Further helping matters is the mostly subdued score by John Williams, whose over-the-top contribution to War Horse last year proved so counterproductive to that film's effect. Working predominantly in shades of blue and black, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski takes a similarly straightforward approach, while the period evocation achieved by many hands led by production designer Rick Carter, costume designer Joanna Johnston and the makeup and hair team is detailed and lacking in embalmed fastidiousness.

Other than Day-Lewis, acting honors go to Jones, who clearly relishes the rich role of Stevens and whose crusty smarts prove both formidable and funny. Very much a good guy here, Stevens in earlier cinematic days was always portrayed as an extremist villain, both in The Birth of a Nation and in the odd 1943 Andrew Johnson biographical drama Tennessee Johnson.


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