December 4, 2017

filmsgraded.com:
Lincoln (2012)
Grade: 51/100

Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field

What it's about. It is early 1865. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has won re-election, and the Civil War is not far from won. But Lincoln still has problems: his wife (Sally Field) is a shrew, his grown son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to risk his life by enlisting in the war, and then there's politics.

Lincoln pushes for passage of the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery. It requires a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, but while the Republicans are on board, and the Southern states can't vote, there are enough racist Democrats in the House to potentially sink the amendment. They are led by George Pendleton (Peter McRobbie) who seeks a quick end to the war by allowing the South to resume slavery. Hardliner abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the Republican effort in the House. Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward (David Straithairn) and his political operative W.N. Bilbo (James Spader) use various forms of bribery to influence indecisive Democrats. Meanwhile, Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) negotiates with Confederate leaders to end the war before the butchery resumes in the Spring.

How others will see it. Stocked with aging A-list names, beginning with director Steven Spielberg, Lincoln drew generally favorable reviews, and was nominated for a ridiculous dozen Oscars. It won Best Actor for Day-Lewis, his third such trophy. At imdb.com, the film has a big 215K user votes, and a relatively high user rating of 7.4 that rises to 7.7 among my favorite demographic, women over 45.

Naysayers exist, of course. There are whispers that the movie is actually boring. But most viewers are enthralled, and rave about Day-Lewis' performance.

How I felt about it. It is boring. Even Lincoln is boring. Turns out he is a soft-spoken nice guy, prone to telling amusing fables to get a long-winded point across. He is stooped, weary, and remarkably patient, whether he is listening to a talkative nobody or a blowhard bigwig. One has to wonder: is he the President, or a priest?

While it is good to see Day-Lewis underplaying a character for once, his example is not followed by the rest of the cast. Field, for example, regularly gets worked up over nothing: son Robert is not going to lead the Charge of the Light Brigade, and if the White House curtains aren't fancy enough, remember that soldiers are dying in the killing fields.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the Republicans and Democrats are free with vicious personal insults while debating, which seems hardly likely to win converts, nor is germane to the amendment, but does lend a false drama to the proceedings. The only believable aspect to the story is that wavering politicians will sell their vote for a price, something that continues to this day in the guise of campaign contributions.

One final complaint is that the movie covers too much ground. Perhaps it would have been best to stick to the 13th Amendment battle, and not throw in the Appomattox surrender of Lee, and the assassination of Lincoln, which take place three months later.

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