Tremendously safe 'Lincoln'
By Christy Lemire, Associated Press
February 22, 2013, 6:22 pm TWN
For anyone who cringed just a little while watching the trailer for “Lincoln” and worried that it might be a near-parody of a Steven Spielberg film, with its heartfelt proclamations, sentimental tones and inspiring John Williams score, fret not.
The movie itself is actually a lot more reserved than that — more a wonky, nuts-and-bolts lesson about the way political machinery operates than a sweeping historical epic that tries to encapsulate the entirety of the revered 16th president's life. That was a smart move on the part of Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for the play “Angels in America” who also wrote the script for Spielberg's “Munich.”
Talky and intimate but also surprisingly funny, “Lincoln” focuses on the final four months of Abraham Lincoln's life as he fought for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and strove to unite a nation torn apart by the Civil War. (It is based partly on Doris Kearns Goodwin's best-seller “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”) This tumultuous period provides a crucible to display everything Lincoln was made of, both his folksiness and fortitude. He tells long, winding anecdotes to enlighten and charm those around him but also forcefully hammers home his points to get what he wants.
Totally unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the role fully. He disappears into it with small details and grand gestures, from his carriage to the cadence of his speech, and the Academy should probably just give him the best-actor Oscar now and get it over with. Although “Lincoln” itself often feels too conservative, stagey and safe, Day-Lewis' performances is full of so many clever choices that he keeps it compelling.
Of course, the film has all the top-notch technical hallmarks we've come to expect from Spielberg: It's handsomely staged and impeccable in its production design. But despite the dramatic streaks of misty white light streaming from the outdoors into these dark, solemn rooms of power — a signature of his longtime collaboration with Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski — “Lincoln” is much more muted from an aesthetic standpoint than last year's equally old-fashioned “War Horse.” This is a movie that's easier to admire than love; it's impressive but not exactly moving.