Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lincoln, by Spielberg

I loved watching Lincoln, but I don't think it's a great movie.

Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant, of course. He makes Lincoln human and believable. By extension, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book "Team of Rivals" was Kushner's primary source, are also behind-the-scene stars, as well as Janusz Kaminski, cinematographer, for taking grand subject matter and making it so intimate.

Viewers may fidget during the scenes in which Lincoln's son begs his father to let him fight, but it does set up a pivotal scene between Day-Lewis and Sally Field, who plays Lincoln's wife, Mary.

Anthony Lane is right when he writes that Spielberg lost an opportunity for a great ending: watching Lincoln walking away from us, down a long hallway, shuffling along, uncomfortable with his gangly stature, preparing for his last night out. What a coda that could have been. Who in the world doesn't know how Lincoln spent his last evening? Instead, Spielberg takes us to the Second Inaugural Address. It's like asking Day-Lewis to play Henry Fonda playing Lincoln.

Same for the stage of surrender, where Robert E. Lee's only appearance in the film is accompanied by strings and voices in the distance. (Whenever you hear a chorus in a Spielberg film, it's because he's asked for it. And who is John Williams to say no to Spielberg?) Spielberg was even able to corral another president into introducing his film at the Golden Globes.

At the ceremony, when all of the best actor nominees were announced, you could see on the faces of Richard Gere, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington et al, 'what's the point of this charade?' They knew Day-Lewis would win, and he will win at the Academy Awards as well. And it will likely be the only Oscar the film garnishes there, too.

I loved this movie, but it could have been so much better. Still, that won't keep me from watching it again.

Clarence Thomas speaks, after seven years of silence

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