WRITTEN BY: Tony Kushner
DIRECTED BY: Steven Spielberg
STARRING: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader
RATING: 1.5 stars
Remember in those early seasons of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing when the protagonists would have long debates with each other and you were entertained by their wit and intelligence? Well, in Lincoln the protagonists also have long-winded debates. Unfortunately, those conversations lack all wit, are only sparingly amusing with one-liners you would miss if you lost concentration for a moment, and are drearily boring. I like studying history, but even I was bored during Lincoln. What is Daniel Day-Lewis tipped to win an Oscar for - remembering big chunks of dialogue?
The film centres on the final months of Lincoln's life in 1864, including the passage of the 13th amendment ending slavery, the surrender of the confederacy during the civil war and his assassination, although the latter is not shown on screen. I was hoping for an interesting story about America's civil war president and how he emancipated the slaves. Instead, I got a film about political process with a few back-room tricks and bribes that politicians would never get away with in the modern western world. I suppose for that I should find some appreciation, but I wanted to see more about Lincoln, the man.
The so-called climax in particular dragged on with all the members of the House of Representatives stating whether they voted for the 13th amendment or not. I thought, "Surely they aren't going to go through every person in parliament are they?" Well, they very nearly did. Perhaps with some editing the film, which runs for about 150 minutes, could have been improved but it was far too bland - a combination of a mediocre script by Tony Kushner and a lack of imagination from Steven Spielberg, a director so admired for his imagination. It was obviously a passion project for Spielberg but he did not convey that passion in the film.
Day-Lewis was the stand-out performer in this film, but even he could not save it. I understand why he was given the Oscar nomination, but I certainly don't think he should win. Sally Field had some good moments portraying Lincoln's wife, especially one scene where she rips a politician to shreds, but she was ultimately not all that interesting to watch. Tommy Lee Jones was probably the most entertaining playing an abolitionist, but even he reverted to his grumpy self at times. I think he deserved an Oscar nomination for Hope Springs, rather than this film. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was underused as Lincoln's son and the rest of the cast was hardly memorable.
Dare I say it, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter entertained me with its ridiculousness more than Lincoln. At least it didn't threaten to put me to sleep.