movie film review | chris tookey


© Unknown - all rights reserved
  Lincoln  Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
8.22 /10
Daniel Day-Lewis , Sally Field , Tommy Lee Jones
Full Cast >

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner , based on Doris Kearns Goodwinís book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Released: 2012
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 149

Heartfelt hagiography.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

Steven Spielberg has admitted that Lincoln is the first film heís directed wearing a tie. So respectful and stodgily solemn is his Oscar-nominated film that it looks as if Spielberg directed it in a 19th century frock coat with white kid gloves, and on bended knee.

Itís not all bad. The film offers a minutely detailed account of the political wrangles leading up to the adoption by Congress of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery across America. It succeeds in showing Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis, pictured) as a political fixer, not above bribery and being economical with the truth.

If youíre gripped by the minutiae of nineteenth-century American politics, itís moderately enjoyable.

Its message for today is partly about the importance of idealism with regard to racial equality, but itís also Ė very topically, in the light of Barack Obamaís tribulations - about the need for compromise.
This is most powerfully dramatised in the reluctant decision of Lincolnís ally, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to tone down his radical, racially egalitarian beliefs in order not to scare off the Right.

Jonesí moments of light relief and irreverence Ė though far too crude for the historical context - steal the picture, and will probably win him Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. James Spaderís portrait of W.N. Bilbo, a cheery rogue who did much of Lincolnís dirty work, is also watchable.

Sally Field, as Lincolnís neurotic wife Mary, has a thanklessly nagging part, but does at least manage to reveal a side of Honest Abe that was slightly human.

Day Lewis looks the part and supplies plenty of gravitas, with welcome traces of a dry sense of humour. He remains, however, a mythic, super-heroic icon of leadership, speaking in wise parables and high-flown rhetoric.

The sad truth is that Spielberg and his writer Tony Kushner are offering a phoney, sanitised version of Lincoln.

Most modern re-evaluations of the Republican President suggest that he was not the liberal that present-day Democrats would like him to have been. The real Lincoln believed in whitesí superiority over blacks, condemned miscegenation and was keen to ship black slaves off to overseas plantations after the abolition of slavery.

Youíd never know it from Spielbergís film, but the anti-slavery 13th Amendment originated not with Lincoln but with a petition campaign by early feminists called the Womenís National Loyal League.The film wildly exaggerates the Presidentís role in ending slavery and virtually ignores black peopleís contribution.

The most prominent abolitionists included newspaper editor William Garrison, heiress Angelina Grimke, popular novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe and the freed slave Frederick Douglass. Not one of these is mentioned in Lincoln.

The film most culpably leaves out the fact that, while events in this film were occurring, southern slaves were already rebelling and seizing the land where they worked. Nowhere in the film is any mention by Lincoln or any of his allies of the strategic advantages of ruining the slave-based southern economy, and freeing millions of slaves behind enemy lines, many of whom would then fight for the Yankee army.

This is high-minded hagiography, and too much of it resembles a Disneyfied waxworks show with an animatronic version of Daniel Day Lewis intoning speeches by the great man in a reedy tenor, while John Williamsí sub-Aaron Copland score strains for sonorous solemnity.

Spielberg ends the film with Lincolnís assassination, but here again the directorís decision to show the event from the point of view of Lincolnís young son has the effect of infantilising history. The murder by John Wilkes Booth was not as Spielberg portrays it, an isolated event, but part of a political coup, with two other assassination attempts occurring simultaneously against Lincolnís vice-president and secretary of state.

Spielberg is always a professional, and the film is never less than well-crafted. Though some will find it a tedious talkathon, itís quite a bit more enjoyable than his last venture on to similar territory, Amistad.

I donít see it doing well on this side of the Atlantic. Thereís none of the flair, fun or originality that mark Spielbergís finest work.

It was a patriotic inevitability that this very American film would receive multiple Oscar nominations, but if it does win at the Academy Awards it will be more for worthiness than for artistic or historical merit.

Key to Symbols