If we take the value from Day-Lewis's performance as ol' Abe: awesome.
If we take the value from the main narrative vein of passing the thirteen amendment: the movie has pace, drama, and excitement!
If we take the value of scope, DDL, and thirteenth amendment: well, now you're talking Oscar!
But these things are not the only elements of Lincoln.
When you talk about the scope, how the movie goes from battlefield to White House, to the House of Representatives, to the streets of Washington, to images of the bombardment of Fort Fisher, to one final battlefield full of the dead, to the surrender at the Appomattox court house--when we talk about scope, we have to talk about how the movie delivers a cursory look at battle, at war, at violence, at slavery, at the country as a whole. It chooses to focus on the politics. Fine.
But here we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Robert Todd. The major plot of this character is wanting to be a soldier. The conflict: Abe and Mary Todd are scared Robert'll be injured or killed in battle. The focus on politics does nothing for Robert Todd's story. Aside from the very beginning scenes of people being bayoneted, violence has little screen time. Which means the narrative does nothing to support Abe and Mary's fears for their son. Obviously, we know how dangerous battle is. How bloody the Civil War was. But the movie is being lazy and hoping we make these connections. Yes, there's the visit to the hospital: the injured soldiers, Robert following the cart full of body parts and feeling sick to his stomach. But does 2 minutes worth of screen time in an 150-min film really...convey anything? Not to mention all we ever see Robert Todd do is stand near Ulysses S. Grant. Was he happy he got to serve? Was he disappointed? Did he go into battle? Why even have the character if the arc isn't concluded?
How weird is the Appomattox court house scene? How sterile the Fort Fisher shots of anonymous buildings on fire? How anonymous the legion of dead during the battlefield tour? Do we even have a black character who has a sum total of more than 3 minutes of screen time? Do all the black characters in the film have more than 5 minutes?
My point: this is a small movie. I wouldn't say it's very ambitious. Concentrated and detailed within that concentration. But not ambitious.
Daniel-Day Lewis's portrayal is ambitious. But am I the only one who thinks it simultaneously makes and ruins the movie? Lewis is SO MUCH Lincoln it reveals how...Sally Field Sally Field is, how Tommy Lee Tommy Lee Jones is, how JGL JGL is. Christopher Orr from The Atlantic:
As Robert, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is forgettable, his role considerably smaller than his billing might lead one to believe. The casting of Sally Field as Mary is more problematic. Like Jones, she is too recognizably herself; but where the script furnishes the former with countless opportunities to deploy his mordant wit, Field's relatively thankless role offers few compensations for her failure of mimesis.
Yeah. That's exactly what I'm going to do.
Spielberg could have shown us kid Lincoln, young Lincoln, running for President Lincoln. Instead he chose to work SOLELY with "The Lincoln who freed the slaves". And the relationship between Lincoln and his children, with Mary Todd chirping in now and then.
This is Spielberg working with a narrative about patriarchy. And this is only his 43902483092849023748972309471983741890273498017230984173821743892146737856378645937418903724981073891473892071498327149803721084732981473289174 time doing that.
So I think when you look at Lincoln on the whole, strengths and weaknesses, you see a movie that is, when you get down to it, not only flawed but...stale. And I blame a lazy Steven Spielberg.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Remember when you were in Nine?: Daniel Day-Lewis
She tried hard, I think: Sally Field
Thaddeus Stevens: Agent K
He's been in movies I've seen, but I had no idea, liked him though: David Strathairn
Did what he could: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Always entertains me: James Spader
I like his name: Hal Holbrook
I want to see him have his own movie: John Hawkes
Made me sad to be from Ohio: Peter McRobbie
What It's Good For:
-it's a quality picture
-the line "clothed with immense power"
-the pace and rush of procuring the votes
-seeing the politics play out
-some good shots
-the aphorisms Lincoln shares
-Tommy Lee is very engaging when he's trying (see MIB 3 for the opposite effect)
-DDL outshines his fellow thespians
-poorly developed subplots
-why show Lincoln on his death bed?
-the movie is so happy to dramatize the importance of setting blacks free but doesn't feel strongly enough about the subject matter to incorporate a black character as a major player, opting, instead, to simply show Lincoln's servant looking apprehensive in the balcony
-oh wow, look...Thaddeus Stevens has a black significant other...TWIST...way to save that for the fucking end...maybe it's just me, but it would have been nice to show this at the beginning so then we see why the amendment is so important to Stevens, and we can empathize with him more during the movie...but noooooooooooooo, that could detract from Mr. Lincoln, so we're just going to save this for a 15 second scene at the very end when everyone is feeling happy. Dumb.
-there's more time spent watching James Spader running than there is developing the relationship between a white character and a black character, or developing any black character in any way whatsoever
-the kid screaming NO NO NO was a little...over the top for me? His dad's been shot. That's sad. But the zoom close-up, the screams...just...weird. Then that's it. Cut. Way to develop this...
-showing emotion not to develop narrative but simply to make the audience feel emotion
-if you think this movie isn't very good, you're going to come under assault from people who are blinded by the names attached and the strong foundations
-it'll be nominated for Oscars, and I think it's undeserving
-can you get any more heavy-handed than Lincoln bathed in white, holy-like light as he stands between the window and the white, diaphanous curtains?
With Lincoln, Spielberg has directed 29 movies. That's a lot! Wait till you get a load of how many deal with patriarchal relationships.
But first, a long excerpt from Dr. Robert Kolker's A Cinema of Loneliness, specifically about Spielberg and the use of patriarchal relationships.
Even though the nineties, when the tenor of Spielberg's films and their view of the domestic changed somewhat, they still operate to prove the validity of, and to recuperate any possible losses to, the domestic space. Their specific formal devices work toward the success of this project, which becomes finally the universal mise-en-scene. In Close Encounters, the visitors from space send their children out to greet the earthlings, thereby promoting an intergalactic family, already initiated by their calling first on Jillian's small child and then Roy to join them (Jillian remains on earth, in soft focus, as it were, waiting first for the return of her son and then of Roy). E.T. descends to perform the role of father, secret friend, and baby for young Elliott. Even the Indiana Jones films (inflected by George Lucas's fantasies of adolescent adventure and an invulnerable hero who seems to want none of the normal ties to home and family) don't betray Spielberg's central concern. Indy has two lives: one as mild-mannered bespectacled archaeology professor, the other as adventurer, something of a sublunar Superman. Were he only an adventurer, the viewer would be unable to find the securing point. The narrative space would be open-ended; its activity would find rest in the conclusion of the adventure but not in the satisfactory return of the subject to a place of comfort. So, the first film has Indy return home; the second has him save hundreds of Indian children captured by an evil sect, returning them to their desolated village. He and dad find the Holy Grail in the last of the series. The hero takes on the role of paternal savior, that major figure in eighties cinema who forms the narrative core of Spielberg's work. The father, or his surrogate, must prevail.
The nineties films perform some interesting alterations to these patterns. Both Jurassic Park and The Lost World reflect--as do many contemporary filmds trying to escape conservative rituals--the imperfections of the domestic scene. In the first film, a new family made up of the unmarried Drs. Grant and Stattler and the grandchildren of the Jurassic theme park's builder, join together to fight the marauding beasts. In The Lost World, the beasts enter the domestic sphere directly, as a dinosaur invades San Diego, seen by a child from his suburban bedroom window...
The later "serious" films, in broadening their reach to large historical subjects, mute spectacle somewhat and find sometimes odd ways of restating the patriarchal imperative. Armistad is precisely about the loss of familial protection. No comprehension of tribal life is available to Spielberg's American, middle-class imagination. We do know that slaves are ripped from their tribal homes; they rebel, break their shackles, and take over the slave ship they are traveling on. Caught, they are thrown into an American jail, unable to communicate with anyone. And they are saved by a clearly defined patriarchal figure, Anthony Hopkins's John Quincy Adams, who himself has two "child" surrogates in Joadson the abolitionist and Baldwin the lawyer. In the climactic sequence, Adams, hoary and doddering, comes out of retirement to successfully argue Cinque's case before the Supreme Court. It is a painful sequence because it appears to thrust onto the narrative a pater-ex-machina, the crusty old white man (a stereotype that has become a major figure of ideological overcompensation in both film and television--defying feminist arguments by showing that unpleasant white men are still good "inside"), descending to save the confused, oppressed Africans. The same situation forms the narrative premise in Schindler's List, where the Jews, analogous to Amistad's Africans, are reduced to helpless gratitude before Schindler, who, learning compassion against his worst nature, reaches through the Nazi hierarchy to save a few people to work in his factories.
Community always lingers around the peripheries of his films, and issues of order are either on a personal or universal level, never involved with the body politic, even in Schindler's List, a film that should be about the body politic. Ford looking to adjust his individual figures into the movement of American history, seen from a conservative perspective--but at least seen. In The Color Purple, a film about a black community in the first half of the [twentieth] century, Spielberg shows almost no interest in the political, economic, or ideological forces at work at the time, only the personal and the domestic ideologies of the eighties transferred back into the fictional realm.
Amistad, situated in the late eighteenth-century, displaces political and economic concerns with the legal, turning a difficult, painful subject into a courtroom melodrama. The narrative of The Color Purple, despite the brutality and emotional deprivation that occurs within it, is a melodrama set in a pastoral realm--with a few brief visit to the city--strangely cut off from the rest of the world.
Does the "turning a difficult, painful subject into a courtroom melodrama" sound familiar?
We see in the way Lincoln defies his wife's wishes, and courts her potential wrath, by allowing Robert to join the army a type of mini-narrative encapsulating the struggle for the thirteenth amendement, with Lincoln playing the role of liberating father to both the amendment and to the blacks the amendment will affect, with both the amendment and blacks becoming surrogates for Todd and the "Nay" voters and Confederates representing Mary Todd.
Which, if you're curious, means Tad becomes a symbol for the new world Lincoln so hoped to usher in.
So. At the end of the day, Lincoln is just your typical Spielberg movie. Spielberg has done some great stuff but...he's doing the same stuff. Let's look at his filmography, shall we.
Duel: nothing patriarchal
The Sugarland Express: a family feels threatened, takes action
Jaws: government figures, who are the patriarchs of the town, don't take action, forcing Brody into the role
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: see Kolker
1941: the destroyed home foreshadows the pains of the WWII (I think? I'm reading about the movie, I have't seen it, so I may be wrong here.)
Raiders of the Lost Ark: see Kolker
E.T.: see Kolker
Twilight Zone: a figure makes older people into kids and then has the power to change them back...patriarch...
Temple of Doom: see Kolker
The Color Purple: see Kolker
Empire of the Sun: son is separated from his family and the journey leads up to their reunion
Always: Pete plays patriarch to Ted
The Last Crusade: See Kolker
Hook: Peter Pan is a father estranged from his children and the domestic unit is repaired
Jurassic Park: see Kolker
Schindler's List: see Kolker
The Lost World: see Kolker
Amistad: see Kolker
Saving Private Ryan: have to rescue a missing son and reunite him with his mother, so the soldiers play a type of patriarchal unit
A.I.: mother/son focus, but, still, looking at the family unit
Minority Report: grieving father, bereft of his family unit
Catch Me If You Can: Hanks is Father figure, DiCaprio a type of rebellious teenager
The Terminal: Viktor's reason for being in America is finishing his father's mission; he then returns home
War of the Worlds: dad protecting his kids
Munich: a government avenging the death of its "children"
Kingdom of the Shitty Skull: fuck this
The Adventures of Tintin: the main conflict comes down to the fight of two sons of fathers who fought previously
War Horse: the father's actions of buying the horse then selling the horse sets the entire narrative in motion, and the finale involves the reuniting of family
Lincoln: more of the same.
Spielberg is an icon. His movies make bank. They get nominated for Oscars. People love them. But I think Lincoln is a weak effort. In context of a Spielberg film: unoriginal. Is he not capable of more? Isn't it interesting that his FIRST film has nothing to do with patriarchy or family. And every film since has? We know he can break away from his beloved tropes and themes. So why won't he? "Because his movies make money and get nominated for Oscars and people love them!" Yeah. Those are all external factors. Doesn't Spielberg want to...grow as an artist? Or is he content with repetition and what it's brought him? Like some all-star who gets a fat contract and never plays hard again?
Did I Like It:
Yes, but only for its strongest aspects. It was, as my friend said, "Quality." But it never wowed me. The closest it came to making me feel...awed or inspired was the "clothed with immense power" line. But even when Lincoln slams his fist on the table...it was weak. And that to me encapsulates the movie. It just...lacks force.
Daniel Day-Lewis impressed me, but he usually does. Except in Nine. Well, no, that impressed me, too. Not in a good way though.
The use of dark and light is interesting but...isn't that cliche at this point? Especially the shot of Lincoln going down the stairs, on his way to the theater, and the stairway is all murky and black, foreshadowing what's to come. It's the antithesis to the earlier moment where Lincoln is bathed in a white light.
Is nobody else upset about how the film handles blacks?
Watching Lincoln, I thought "this is nice." But thinking about Lincoln, I get more and more upset. One, because it's so...Spielberg. And two, I think it's rude. Okay. Maybe this is hypocritical because Rex Reed complained about 50/50 not discussing cancer and pharmaceuticals, and I said that's stupid, that just because the film deals with cancer doesn't mean it has to deal with the medication and treatments for cancer. Just because a film deals with slavery and the freedom of black slaves doesn't mean it has to or should focus on black slaves...is that right? Does that sound right? It doesn't sound right to me. I think this movie could have been much, much better. Way more powerful. It never looks at what's at stake. It talks about it. And thus it relies on us KNOWING. But the film never really shows us. Lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy. For a movie that shows you FOOTBALL and the glory and damage the game can bring and cause: Any Given Sunday. Underrated movie.
I usually have a few other sections at the end here. But I don't know how I feel about them lately. So.