Thursday, December 13, 2012

movie review: Lincoln (2012)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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LINCOLN (2012)

I've been meaning to catch Lincoln ever since I saw the first trailers during the summer. For whatever reason, I kept putting it off until I found out it's showing at the Rialto Cinema Cerrito, in El Cerrito. Being this is in walking distance I had no excuse not to escape the real world for 2 1/2 hours of movie magic.

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After all these years you'd think that movies on Abraham Lincoln have been done to death (no pun intended). Most seem to cover Lincoln with a global view, all the way from his days as a Congressman to that fateful day when he was murdered at Ford's Theater.

This movie takes a different angle, concentrating on the short three month period of time between the 1864 Presidential Election and the House of Representative's passage of the 13th Amendment.

Partially based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, we see the political intrigue which was common place in the 1800s, when you needed a score card to know which way any politicians might swing on a topic, even within the same political party!

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Be forewarned. If you hate films laden with dialog and are only entertained when things go boom every ten seconds, or when special effects turn a character's skin from tan to blue at the drop of a hat, this film is NOT for you.

Lincoln relies heavily on dialog, and the relationships among several Washington DC power brokers, as they jump though all sorts of hoops in an effort to abolish slavery in the United States.

Makeup was fantastic. While Longstreet's beard in Gettysburg still  draws chuckles, there should be no laughs here. Everyone's makeup was very believable and, with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones' very recognizable face, blended into the history books I used to read in college.

Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln is a career performance. Prior to this my favorite performance of his was Bill Cutting (Gangs of New York). However, a good portion of that screen time was shared with Leonardo DiCaprio. Though there are plenty of other actors with important parts in Lincoln, they are clearly playing second fiddle to Day-Lewis, who character carries the film.

I was intrigued by Day-Lewis' vocalization of Lincoln. Normally, he has a very forceful voice in most of his roles (see Daniel Plainview, in There Will be Blood, for an extreme example of what I'm talking about).

By 1864 the real Lincoln had been worn down by several bloody years of war, not to mention a tenuous reelection battle. Day-Lewis spoke in character with the usual "folksy" tone that many an actor have portrayed Lincoln with, and there was a "frailness" sound to it.

Interestingly, Day-Lewis was not the first choice as Lincoln; Liam Neeson was. However, Neeson pulled out before actual filming started. It's 20/20 hindsight, but I just can't see him giving a performance anywhere near what Day-Lewis accomplished.

Sally Field did an adequate job as Mary Todd Lincoln, especially considering what she had to work with, as Mrs. Lincoln had a small amount of screen time when compared to the male characters.

The supporting actor list is absolutely thick with talent; too many to name everyone. Three particularly standing out are David Strathairn (William Seward), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton) and Lee Pace (Fernando Wood)

It should be no surprise that any film dealing with Lincoln and the Civil War will usually end with Lincoln's assassination. However, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner chose not to show the actual event, instead wrapping up with inspirational oratory.

This morning Lincoln received seven Golden Globe nominations, the most for any movie, and it won't surprise me if they repeat a similar feet when it comes to Oscar nominations in mid-January, especially  Day-Lewis (Lead Actor), Kushner (Best Screenplay) and Best Picture.

Perhaps a little picky, but I did knock off a star because of a bit of time compression at the end and for a couple of scenes that, while adding to the flavor of the movie, are doubtful at ever happening, according to some historians. (Though only a sub-plot in passing, I would have liked to have seen more information on the peace overtures from the Confederacy).

RATED: 9.0 out of 10 STARS

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Lincoln will be showing at the Cerrito at least through December 21st, and is also showing at several other theaters throughout the area.  Further information on show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

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