23 February 2013 | bob the moo
Patient and engaging while mostly avoiding sentimentality
I approached this film with caution and did so for several reasons. First and foremost, this is Oscars season and this type of film is just what one expects to come out and be showered with Oscar buzz – and quite often these films are found to be lacking once they are out of this period and on their own. The second reason was related and it was that I didn't for a second think that this film would be able to go for more than two minutes without the heroic music coming up, a soft focus being slapped on the lens and someone giving a great speech about the morality of everything while the camera cuts to those around looking teary eyed and yet full of admiration. In other words I worried that this would simply be a more expensive version of The West Wing season 1.
Although the film does rather fall into these traps occasionally, it is by no means seriously flawed since the majority of the film is patience and very well delivered. We focus on the final few years of Lincoln's life, specifically the period towards the end of the war where slavery was abolished by Constitutional amendment. As such the film is about political wrangling and the determination to stay the course with the goal even though it would be difficult and smart politics suggested to not risk the bigger prize (peace) at the expense of an aspiration. The film shows this very well and it manages to be patient without being slow – which is quite the achievement considering that the film is essentially men in rooms talking. The politicking was well delivered so that it wasn't dull but wasn't falsely sped up. The sentimentality is kept to a surprisingly low. It is still there of course and the camera frequently looks for a heroic frame and the music often reminds us the grandeur of what we are seeing, but it doesn't overdo it too much and certainly nowhere near the levels I feared.
Day Lewis is perhaps a given for the Oscar. His Lincoln is certainly a spot on creation – he comes over as heroic and steadfast without being mythicalised by his own performance. He really gives an impression of the man's spirit throughout the film. The supporting cast is so deep in names and faces that it is hard to know where to start; being honest, at times I did find it a little distracting as a parade came across the screen – seemingly all from TV shows I watch or films I had seen, I suspect I could be quite far down the cast list before I found someone I couldn't place. Aside from this distracting a little, it does mean the cast is deep in talent and everyone does well. Tommy Lee Jones in particular adds passion and color to all his scenes and the film benefits from his performance. Field is perhaps not as good – although in fairness I didn't think the personal side to the story worked as well as the rest – and since this is her parts, maybe that is why I didn't like her performance as much. Spielberg's direction is very well paced; shots are very well picked and the camera is very patient in its movement.
Lincoln didn't blow me away but it did quietly impress me. Part of the reason for this is that the film doesn't go all out for emotion or history or sentimentality, it simply lets it happen in the main and manages to keep these traps to a comparative minimum that really helps the film. It is long but never boring, respectful but never overly so.