Saturday, 19 January 2013

Lincoln

Academy Award Nominations: 12

·         Best Picture
·         Best Director (Steven Spielberg)
·         Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
·         Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones)
·         Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field)
·         Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner)
·         Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski)
·         Best Costume Design (Joanna Johnston)
·         Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn)
·         Best Original Score (John Williams)
·         Best Production Design
·         Best Sound Mixing

1865. President Abraham Lincoln has just been re-elected for his second term with America deep in the throws of the American Civil War. Having signed the Emancipation Proclamation temporarily freeing the slaves for the war effort, he is determined to push through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as soon as possible, abolishing slavery once and for all. However, with his belief that war will end within the month, he's determined to push the amendment through Congress as soon as possible, before all the southern states return and defeat his motion. Even if he can convince his entire party to vote yea on the amendment, he will still need the support of a worrying large number of Democratic congressmen in order to gain the two thirds majority needed. Thus, Lincoln must go out and meet his enemies and convince them to go against their party's line and free the slaves...

Steven Spielberg has spent a long time trying to entertain the masses and bring joy to families worldwide, along with mixing in the occasional adult-orientated historical film. However, in the last decade or so, the shift from family entertainment has seen his role shift more toward producer rather than director. Instead, he's saving his eye for an increasing amount of adult dramas. Films like Munich, Catch Me If You Can and more recently War Horse have shown Spielberg's eye for an adaptation and an obsession with accurately recreating history, whether in a fictional or non-fictional context. Now, with Lincoln, Spielberg's passion project which he's been waiting years to be able to do, he reproduces another literary adaptation in another historical context, going into uncharted territories this time by visiting the American Civil War rather than a World War, and bringing Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves, to the screen. So who better to bring such a character to life than the man who lives his roles: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis's method acting method has brought him immense plaudits previously, and this performance should be no different. By immersing himself with a role, he is able to get inside the mind of his characters and essentially becomes them for the duration of the production. The results of which are seen on screen, and Day-Lewis has now proven that this is no one-off, producing stellar performance after stellar performance, and Lincoln is now different. The voice, the mannerisms, the speech, it's all down to a tee, so much so that it often feels like a documentary when combined with the highly-detailed sets and extraordinary dialogue from a well-written script. It's performances like this which explains how he's able to pick and choose roles as he pleases, and explains why Spielberg was so adamant that this production lived or died on whether he accepted the role. He's ably supported by a top notch supporting cast and a director with an eye for a dramatic moment, but above all else, it's Day Lewis' performance that'll be the talking point of the 2012-13 film year.

Speaking of the supporting cast, Sally Field is surprisingly good, evoking a range of emotions in a short space of time as Mary Todd, however at time it feels as though she's neglected to a background actress rather than a supporting actress. If anything, the wife of the main character is often overshadowed by an excellent performance by Tommy Lee Jones, playing Thaddeus Stevens, a staunch supporter of slavery abolition. He's genuine, given some great dialogue to deliver and plays a pivotal role in the film. He provides the comic relief in the film, and pulls off a heart warming, heart felt, silent victory when the amendment passes (spoiler alert). It's a moment of real emotion played out on screen and one of the great moments in the film. Other than that, the rest of the supporting cast was outstanding, with stand outs David Costabile of Breaking Bad fame as James Ashley and Michael Stuhlbarg of Boardwalk Empire fame as George Yeaman, alongside a surprisingly empty performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln.

The film itself looks and feels authentic, but that's to be expected now from a Spielberg production. There may not be Kubrick-levels of research and dedication involved, but Spielberg's demands for authenticity are now legendary, albeit with a handful of inaccuracies in order to make the story at hand more cohesive. It was one of the limited amount of good things about War Horse, and one of the many good things about Lincoln. The mise-en-scene in general; the costumes, the props, the scenery, it all seems genuine and authentic and painstakingly gathered together. The dialogue, as well, is fantastic, it's a greatly written film with fantastic dialogue, especially when Lincoln uses a parable to inspire the people around him. There's no fat on the script either, because of how important a multitude of factors were into getting the amendment passed and building up the strength of the character of Lincoln, every scene is as important as the last, which makes the two and a half hour run time fly past.

Overall, Lincoln is truly engaging, the most engaging historical biopic I've seen in a long, long time. By focusing on a particular period of Lincoln's life which brought out the best in the man, whether or not he did anything else, this is what he'll be remembered for.It was a bold move, also, by not focusing on his assassination, but instead solely focusing on his efforts to pass the constitution and it works. The acting is superb, the writing is magnificent and the film looks incredible. I want to be able to fault it, especially after Spielberg made me watch War Horse last year, but I just can't. But therein lies the problem. Even though I can't fault it, it's not a particularly stand-out film for me. It's not sticking with me as great films tend to. This is an interesting watch, and it deserves some plaudits, but it's not the unforgettable cinematic experience I had hoped for.

Rating: ****1/2

Lincoln will be released in cinemas on the 25th January 2013.