Saturday, November 10, 2012

After Such a Long Wait We Expected a Better Movie Than This: Our Review of "Lincoln" (2012)

Directed By: Steven Spielberg 

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn

Rating: PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

Run Time: 2 hours, 29 minutes

Synopsis: During what would be the final few months of his life, President Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) struggles with the politics and ethics of trying to end the Civil War and get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed while avoiding the scenario of getting one result at the expense of the other.


Andrew: We’re posting this a little late, but Sarah and I were able to catch an advance screening of Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Lincoln, his long-awaited biopic of Honest Abe. It has a cavalcade of stars, headlined by two-time Academy Award-winer Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) in the title role, along with supporting turns by Sally Field (The Amazing Spider-Man), Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) and a whole lot of other actors.

Sarah: Just about anyone you can think of was in this movie.

A: Pretty much! Obviously it’s a biographical film of Abraham Lincoln, but it only the last few months of his life, particularly during the final weeks prior to the House of Representatives voting to approve the 13th Amendment. It’s a very small but important part of his life and his fight to end slavery.

So Sarah, while this was a movie that was in gestation for quite some time (Spielberg has been trying to get this movie made for years with Liam Neeson attached at one point to star as Lincoln), we haven’t been totally jazzed to see it. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we weren’t enamored with War Horse.  We’re probably in the minority about this, but when we saw the trailer for Lincoln, it gave us flashbacks to War Horse didn’t it?

Do not be fooled by the trailer for Lincoln. Most of the movie takes place in a room like this or in the House of Republicans' chambers.

S: It really did, and I went in to this movie with extremely low expectations. Like you said, I didn’t like War Horse. It was pretty, I’ll give Lincoln that, it was pretty…but I see this as 100% Oscar bait and not a whole lot more.

You know…it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It was like watching a history lesson and I felt like…it’s definitely geared towards a specific demographic, and one that I do not fall in.

A: What about it exactly about it didn’t appeal to you?

S: It was slow, for one thing. It is incredibly wordy and honestly? A lot of the time I felt like I was being talked down to, and at other times it was redundant. It reminded me of when we saw Cosmopolis and it was just like, “Ok, we get, can we move on?”

It used extremely big words, and I’m sure they were used back in that time period, but the overabundance of that kind of speech made me question whether it was the best way to go about it.

I do have to admit that there are some powerhouse performances in Lincoln, but I have to follow that up by saying I didn’t feel like any of those powerhouse performances came from Daniel Day-Lewis.

A: Really?

S: Really.

A: Who then?

S: I thought Sally Field did an amazing job as Mary Todd Lincoln. I think she was shown as a Mary Todd that we’ve read about but hadn’t really been shown in film before. She’s always been shoved to the background and overshadowed by her husband in stories about Lincoln; she’s never really talked about or shown in anything I’ve seen. But she gets her spotlight this time, she gets a monologue, and she gives a speech at one point that I think will put Field squarely in the Best Supporting Actress competition at the Oscars.

A: The one where Mary Todd breaks down about their son Robert joining the army?

S: Well that one was good, too, but I was thinking of the one where the Lincoln’s are holding a big to-do at the White House and while some senators and representatives are waiting to be accepted into the house she passively-aggressively rips them a new one. She had a couple of great monologues that I give her hardcore credit for. I don’t know about you, but I thought Sally Field was awesome.

Sarah thought Sally Field was incredible as Mary Todd Lincoln, whereas Andrew thought she was a little too over the top.

A: I’ll agree with you on the aspect of the two biggest strengths of Lincoln being the acting and the cinematography. It’s incredibly well-acted by all involved and it’s shot beautifully by Janusz Kaminski.

I thought Field did a fine job and I’m sure she’ll get Oscar attention, but she didn’t do a whole lot for me. There were times where I thought she was a bit over the top, though I did like her scene when she’s giving a heartfelt kick in the butt to Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and some others.

I thought Daniel Day-Lewis did a great job. I thought he was a perfect Lincoln – he looks like him, I don’t know what Lincoln sounded like but…

S: I’m sure not many people do, my dear [*laughs*]…

A: True, but I’d have to imagine the filmmakers did their research so Day-Lewis knew how to sound like. And you know…he’ll GET nominated for Best Actor, but I don’t think he should win it.

S: I don’t think so either.

A: And it’s simply because he does a fine job but I think there have been better performances this year in other films, most notably Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Yes, even after he came out and said he doesn’t care if he wins an Oscar for his job because he’s thinks they’re stupid, but I think he deserves it more.

S: Yeah, that was a really strong performance, too. Can probably say that one WASN’T Oscar bait if he said that about the Oscars.

A: So, I thought there were plenty of fine performances here. Tommy Lee Jones does a fine job as Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn (The Bourne Legacy) did a nice job as Secretary of State William Seward…overall there were a lot of good performances, but no GREAT ones. There wasn’t anyone who blew me away.

And I think the script really hampered a lot of that. Like you, I thought the script was overwrought, it was too talky, and I think the biggest mistake they made in the entire film was constantly giving Lincoln this little folksy anecdotes and speeches. He rambles!

S: Oh my gosh, he rambles like a champ! And maybe that’s what he was actually like, when historians looked back through his journals or other people’s accounts of him they found out that he rambled and liked to tell stories. But here…I don’t know…

A: Listen, there are a lot of great scenes where he’s giving these anecdotes and a lot of the time they’re pretty humorous because Daniel Day-Lewis does a great job of making him seem like a real person. The best example I can think of is one scene where he and a bunch of his military personnel are waiting in a war room to hear how a siege on a Confederate fort went, and he just starts telling a story about Ethan Allen going to the bathroom at Fort Ticonderoga. It was a great scene, he does a great job in it, it was funny, but there are too many instances like that.

S: And I honestly think they were trying to bring in that human element to a man that history has rightly idolized as an amazing human. And yes, he was an amazing human, but I think the filmmakers were trying to humanize him too much by turning him into the grandfather who always has a parable about something.

A: Yes! They lessened the impact of those stories he tells by overdoing it. Hell, the end of the movie ends with a speech Lincoln gave at some point and I was totally glossy-eyed because it was like, “This is the twelfth speech he’s given in three hours!”

You see this look he has on his face? He's about to tell another story. He does that a lot in this film.

S: I get what they were trying to go for, but it took us from a high and ended us on a flat note. Might be mixing my metaphors there and I don’t care.

A: Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner absolutely butchered the end of this movie, in my opinion. There was a perfect end point…

S: Yes! When Lincoln is walking down the hall on the way to the play! During that entire scene I was pleading for them to end it, because everyone knows what’s coming up next!

A: It would have been a total cliché to end it like that, but it would have been fine! Because it was the perfect spot to end it. Instead they continue through his death and end it just after that.

S: And that scene where Lincoln’s body is laying in that bed…wait. Spoiler alert, people, Lincoln dies at the end! Ok, so that shot where his body is lying in the bed…there’s a drawing of it that I have in my mind like that scene.

A: I’m sure there is, it’s a big part of his story. But here’s the main thing for me with the ending, and I’m not going to say exactly what they do or don’t do with the assassination scene, but I wasn’t crazy with the choice they made in showing it. What they focused on drove me insane. It just didn’t feel right and it felt forced. I didn’t like it.

S: I didn’t like it either. There’s really not a whole lot that I liked about this movie from a standpoint of it being a Steven Spielberg movie. I agree with you that it’s beautifully shot and the cinematography is typical Spielberg.

He has a ginormous cast, which sometimes can be a detriment but at other times he’s able to pull it off. Introduction scenes were always kind of fun because we would be like, “Oh look it’s so-and-so!” But when you spread your cast too thin, when there are so many big names and everyone of note needs to have a line, I feel like it shortchanges those actors and their characters.

A: To that point, another weakness of the story in my eyes – and granted it’s the entire plot almost – is the actual day the House of Representatives voted on the 13th Amendment. They needed to tighten that baby up. Oh my God, we did not need to hear or see what everyone’s vote was going to be. You’ve introduced us to the important swing votes. Focus on them. Everybody else is understood because they’ve been talking about it the whole movie.

S: And kind of just like Argo, we know what happens in the end.

A: That’s a great comparison!

S: We know how both movies ultimately ended, but with Argo there was so much tension with the way they built it up! With Lincoln we knew that the amendment was going to be passed, can we please figure out a way to either make that actual event more exciting or suspenseful whatsoever?

A: That’s a great point. Spielberg tries to create some tension and some drama out of it and totally fails.

S: There are things that you can build up to that the audience already knows is going to happen, but something like a law being passed, one of the most famous and important legal proceedings in the history of our country and you fail at building any dramatic tension out of it? You pretty much just failed at the point of your movie.

A: I couldn’t agree more. Even though the real point of the movie is to show the kind of man Lincoln was during those last few days and how he, as a tactician and politician, was able to get such a tough thing taken care of, the filmmakers go to great lengths to make the actual vote a big deal and it kind of flops. At least we think so.

But I will say one thing, and this was a big thing for you going in to the movie, was John Williams’ score. What did you think of it?

S: Oh gosh, honestly I don’t even care. I’m a huge proponent of a score’s effect on a movie. I feel like it’s one of the most important things for a movie to have, and I felt like Lincoln’s was completely lost. I didn’t find that it helped, I didn’t find that it hindered. I just found it to be a generic John Williams score, and I hate that. But it was what it was.

A: I sort of agree with you – it didn’t hurt, it didn’t strongly support it in any way. It was just kind of there.

S: It was there for the sake of being there.

A: Will it get nominated for an Oscar? Probably. It’s John Williams. The man got nominated twice last year for Pete’s sake.

S: And while we didn’t The Adventures of Tintin, we did see War Horse and I think it had a better score than this one.

You know, we’re really hard on this movie because when it comes to Steven Spielberg you have to hold him to a higher standard than everyone else, and he lets us down…

A: For the second year in a row. Ok, so what is our final assessment of Lincoln?

S: I would not see this one in theatres unless you have three hours to just blow on a history lesson.

A: It is long, that’s another problem it has.

S: But if you’re a history buff, go ahead and see it. If you’re a cinephile, go ahead and see it. If you care about the Oscars, it’s going to get nominated, go see it.

A: But if you’re none of those things, don’t waste your time. Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a BAD movie. It’s just not what we were expecting and we found it boring, which is the worst thing you can say about a film.

FINAL VERDICT: Netflix it!

(Individual Scores - S: 3.5/5  A: 3.5/5)


  1. I had no idea Liam Neeson was once attached to play Lincoln. Oh man we could have seen him kick some ass and maybe the movie wouldn't have felt so long. I think it's great that both Argo and Lincoln, you know the outcome of either story, but it's cool to know that Ben Affleck told his story better than Speilberg. Wouldn't it be cool if Affleck won over Speilberg for best director? Great review

    1. Thanks Vern!

      And It's true! Many many moons ago when Spielberg was first trying to get this off the ground, Neeson was the name attached for a while. And while Day-Lewis does a great job, we can't help but think that Liam freaking Neeson would've been a more badass version of The Great Emancipator.

  2. Good review. The movie may not keep you emotionally-invested, but Daniel Day's performance is so enthralling, that it's just way too difficult to take yourself out of this material and not feel the need to stick by it for over 2 hours. It's a long movie, but it's worth the ride.

    1. Thanks Dan!

      The performances are fantastic, no doubt. But we certainly found ourselves looking at the walls and checking our watches every now and then. And that's no good.