Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt
Warning: Gush-fest ahead.
Story: Lincoln is a 2012 historical drama film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. The film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and covers the final four months of Lincoln’s life.
Lincoln is shot beautifully and is very important but it is not a biography and if you want an accurate history lesson do not look to this film. It is BASED on a great American president who was instrumental in getting an amendment to the United States constitution – the 13th amendment – passed. It banned slavery.
To be honest I didn’t know much about this period in history, so being the kind of person I am – I did some research. I watched a historian on the television discuss how the 13th amendment was created before Lincoln championed it, but that you’d not know this by watching the film. I saw the film after watching this interview and it did make a difference to me. I was able to watch the film as a film and I avoided my own inference.
So, the story: Amidst the civil war is another fight – the one to abolish slavery. The drama focuses on getting an anti slavery amendment passed. Like Titanic, we know the outcome but that does not lessen the dramatic effect – it adds to it
Getting enough votes to permanently end slavery is the goal of the movie and the film does not deviate from it’s target. Even the son’s desire to fight in the war is a backdrop to the story and not the story itself. Things are going on around the film’s central aim but honestly, nothing detracts from that aim.
I could not believe I was watching a movie. The shots were composed like a painting. Tones were dark which made the stunning lighting prominent. The acting by Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln was somber and restrained like the mood of the shot. Steven Spielberg advocates for the oppressed and here he is magnificent, letting the story speak, sidestepping showy direction. He was working with great actors, which I’m sure helped. Daniel Day-Lewis should get the award for best actor at the Oscars.
After writing the above paragraph I watched a video clip where Spielberg actually said that he was restrained, didn’t want fancy shots and wanted the story to speak for itself. (I was right!)
I can’t say enough about the stunning cinematography. Janusz Kaminski is an Oscar winning, Polish-born cinematographer who has shot all of Spielberg’s films since 1993. Lighting was very important to him and I could definitely see that. Lighting was never obtrusive. It was symbolic and beautiful. Like I said, most shots were like a painting. I remember in Art History class we studied Rembrandt – his dark tones and use of lighting…I was reminded of that.
There is so much violent history for black people in America that it is a great relief to see the opposite. The fight for justice and freedom extends to many groups today and seeing someone outside of a ‘group’ fighting for that group is inspirational.
The acting. Daniel Day-Lewis is usually excellent, right? As always, he becomes his character. His extreme method acting allows him to feel blended into the character. He says that he really loved this character and that the character stayed with him long after shooting was finished. I like that he was a layered character. I think that historical figures might be flat or appear knowable. The attempt to bring humour, pathos and struggle to Lincoln is admirable.
Sally Field is also usually brilliant. She plays Lincoln’s vivacious and perhaps unstable wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Field remains in character throughout shooting, gained 25lbs. to play the role and still hasn’t left her character behind her. Again, there are layers to this historical woman. Seeing one of her interviews reminds me of her personal vulnerability which she bring to a headstrong character. She is a front-runner for a best actress Oscar in my opinion.
Tommy Lee Jones is utterly fabulous. He is so wonderful here that I am speechless. I believe that if he were put in a best-actor Oscar category, he might win. He will likely be placed as a supporting actor. He plays cantankerous Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. He and Lincoln are enemies but they both want the 13th Amendment passed. His character must be an actor’s dream – he had a lot to play with. He is likable and hateful, a wild card yet also even. He is loveable but a loud old-fart too.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in everything these days and at the very least shows great range. Here he cannot hold a candle up to the others acting skills but props to him for trying. He play’s Lincoln’s son.
I can imagine that having a black American president now only heightens the drama. It was a very contentious thought in the film that black people and women might have the right to vote one day. While I could be very cynical and elaborate on the financial premise of releasing this film in North America on the weekend before American Thanksgiving, I kind of just feel thankful really. Oh yeah, I can see the manipulation here but the reality is that I am a woman who can vote – that was not possible for a very long time. This film makes you realize how precious much of what we take for granted, is.
This is a beautiful and important film that might win an Oscar. There are unbelievable acting skills here. It is well worth your time and money to see this film.