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 Steven Spielberg's Lincoln

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln   Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:42 pm

This has been a pet project for Steven Spielberg since 1999, it began when he was asked to do a concert in Washington D.C. for the Millennium, which would sum up America in the 20th Century. He had employed consultants to help with it, one of them being Doris Kearns Goodwin, who mentioned to Spielberg she was working on a book about Abraham Lincoln's political life called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Spielberg was sold, and bought the rights to the book before it was even published. It was a perfect project for Spielberg, but he couldn't settle on a plot, as Goodwin's book, eventually published in 2005, was 944 pages long. It was going to be impossible to include everything into this film, and Spielberg struggled to find a suitable script. With screenwriters such as John Logan (The Aviator) and Playwright Paul Webb, before Spielberg eventually settled on Tony Kushner, who he'd worked with on Munich (2005). But there was a bigger challenge, finding the right actor to play Lincoln. When Spielberg started work on the film, he offered the role to Tom Hanks, who was a distant relative of Lincoln himself, but he said no. Liam Neeson was attached for over 5 years, before he left the film. Spielberg then offered it to Daniel Day-Lewis, who had refused the film in 2001 and again in 2005. It was third time lucky for Spielberg, Day-Lewis joined and immersed himself into the life of this great leader, and Spielberg brings out a down-to-earth man who wants to do what's best for his country, and in Lincoln, it's benefited from an amazing supporting cast featuring some amazing top talent working today.

It begins in January 1865, and Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) is looking to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in the United States House of Representatives, but the American Civil War is raging on, and the Slave States in the Deep South, controlled by the Confederacy will oppose the Amendment. But, Lincoln is determined that the Amendment will help to end the Civil War, while Lincoln's loyal Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) feels it's a lost cause, and that they can end the Civil War without the need for signing the Amendment, but Lincoln calls upon the help and support of influential Republican's such as Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and Republican politician Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), both are very influential within the House of Representatives. Stevens calls upon the help of three Republican operatives, including William N. Bilbo (James Spader), Colonel Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson), to go out amongst the Republicans and the Democrats to see if they can muster up enough votes to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed, by any means necessary. Meanwhile, in the White House, Lincoln has the support of his loyal and somewhat troubled wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) and their young son Tad (Gulliver McGrath), and their older son Robert Todd Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes home from Harvard to see his family. He wishes to fight for Union against the Confederate army, but Lincoln tries to dissuade him from doing so.

It's a very political film, but it's also very respectful to the time period in which it's set. For an epic film, it was filmed in a breakneck 9 weeks, mostly in Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. Which gave Spielberg and his team some brilliant period buildings they could use. It does require attention, as it doesn't show much of what went on during the battles of the Civil War, the battles we see in the film are behind closed doors, in the White House and the House of Representitives. But what gives the film it's edge is the excellent dialogue courtesy of Kushner, who has clearly done his homework regarding the period in which it's set in and the Old-English come Twainian utterances these old politicians came out with, these politicians were well educated, if pompous old windbags, stuck in tradition and afraid of change. If anything, the jeering and cat calling that occurs here still goes on in politics today, and it becomes suspenseful to watch as well when it leaves you wondering "will they, won't they??" when it comes down to the crucial vote of the Amendment. It's almost theatrical, and while there might be overacting here and there from the principal performers, this is the perfect setting to do it in. There will be comparisons to Amistad (1997), while that was set 26 years before the events of this film, it still took on the subject of slavery, and you could say that the events in Amistad, the seeds were sown for what what was to come in Lincoln, they could be good companion pieces, if you could watch 2 150 minute films back to back.

Spielberg and his crew bring this olde world to vivid life, his usual cinematographer Janusz Kamiński uses slow, sweeping camera shots for the scenes in the White House, which seem to be oddly enchanced by the cigarette and cigar smoke our characters frequently smoke. It's wrong, but it adds to the time period of people's manners then, but it's a world set during the winter, where it's rainy, muddy and cold. But that doesn't detract from the overall experience, this is how it was then, there's the horror of them leaving bodies of the war dead out in the street, but it does shy away from showing the hardships slaves went through at that time, it just focuses on what the politicians did to make it right for them. John Williams returns once more to create an epic but down-to-earth score, using instruments that would have been around at that time to make this a quietly understated score. Production Designer Rick Carter, who has worked with Spielberg on Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and War Horse, brings the 1860's back to life. Using real locations in Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia, rather than building it all on soundstages and backlots, but it's a testament to Carter and his crew that they've found such great locations that could double for Washington back then, but it's a more innocent time, when the President could just ride down the street in a open carriage with the general public going by with not a care in the world, not like now.

This is Spielberg's best cast film, led with a powerful and enigmatic aplomb by Daniel Day-Lewis, who famously uses Method acting immerse himself into film parts to BECOME the character, and his Lincoln feels like a real human being, down to earth, a family man and a beloved leader of a nation, plus he's an amazing story teller, much to the chagrin of his cabinet. Sally Field shows a sensitive side as Lincoln's troubled wife Mary Todd, who stood by Lincoln's decisions, no matter what. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is a man who could reduce the toughest politician to a quivering wreck, calling them "nincompoops", he chews the scenery but you don't mind, as you could imagine politicians being like this back then. While Day-Lewis, Field and Jones have got all the critical plaudits, the film has a couple of secret weapons in the form of David Strathairn and James Spader, the former as Lincoln's exasperated Secretary of State, who was worried Lincoln wouldn't get his way, and the latter as the man who led a team who were determined to see that Lincoln DID get his way with the Amendment. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a troubled side as Lincoln's son who wants to go to war against his father's wishes, while Hal Holbrook gives a friendly turn as one of the few on Lincoln's side with the Amendment. But there's other good support from Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate States Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, who Lincoln urges to make peace with, Jared Harris as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who helped lead the Union to victory and would become President himself from 1869 to 1878. There's also quick cameos from Walton Goggins, Lee Pace, Lukas Haas, Bruce McGill and Michael Stuhlbarg.



It's a very powerful film, but it's a film which does require attention, it's very theatrical, with long scenes depicting Lincoln trying to convince his own team in the White House that the Amendment is for the greater good. It's a good thing that Spielberg waited until they had the script just right, and focusing on an event during Lincoln's Presidential career which would change the history of the United States, and indeed, the rest of the world forever. It would have been impossible to have done a film about his entire life, to do that, you would need a TV series to do him justice. Spielberg portrays Lincoln with respect and a warmth, a man who managed to find time for his country and his family. It does feel a tad overlong, but in a historical way, it makes a sort of bridge between the debates of slavery in Amistad and the prejudices of the black community in The Color Purple (1985). But ultimately, this is an intelligent film, showing the inner workings of what goes on behind the scenes of politics, and how hard it is for a President to get his way over a piece of legislation, if that's your bag. But, Spielberg manages to find a way to make it appeal to both the connoisseurs and the masses who go to see a film. It's almost like a masterclass in great actors, mostly American, with a great British actor playing America's most revered and respected leader. Once you give this film your full attention it pays off, and it's easy to see why Spielberg stuck with this one and wasn't going to let it go, while so many other projects fell by the wayside. Only he could show Abraham Lincoln in such a positive light.


Last edited by Donald McKinney on Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:20 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln   Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:57 am

I'm seeing it later today! steve

_________________
We renounce our Maker.
We cleave to the darkness.
We take unto ourselves the power and glory.
Behold! We are the Nine,
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Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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PostSubject: Re: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln   Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:27 am

I wish to hear your full thoughts!! Razz
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PostSubject: Re: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln   Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:55 am

I shall collect my thoughts!

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Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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PostSubject: Re: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln   Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:55 am

It's common knowledge that Spielberg is my favourite filmmaker so you all knew I'd give this top marks but I think even I was suprised a bit by how much I loved this. Day-Lewis rightly deserves every award on the planet for his turn as Lincoln, making the titular character an immensely likeable and fascinating figure who can tell a great story. After about two minutes I forgot I was watching Day-Lewis. It's wondrous to see how his whole body seemed for transform into a bloke who's been dead for 150 years. It's an amazing physical performance. You might've expected Spielberg and Day-Lewis together to have focussed on grand-standing speeches and rallying of the troops but almost all scenes of an impassioned Lincoln are downplayed and low key, making the all the more powerful.

I'd be over the moon if Tommy Lee Jones snagged a second oscar. Always a fun performer to watch he's the best he's been in years. I've mentioned in the past that James Spader has never impressed me in a film, I usually wish for any scenes involving him in a film to end very quickly. Not so here. In a slightly comic subplot in which he attempts to get democrats to change their vote, he's perfect and almost manages to get the best line of the film. David Strathairn was just as good as ever. Almost all the cast is great, the talent on screen is immense filled with "Ooh, it's him from out of that thing" faces, with David Costabile and Stephen Spinella being exceptionally good.

As is to be expected, the films looks and sounds a treat. Another great score from John Williams. A generally sombre and reverential score, it reminds me in many ways of his work for Private Ryan, but filled with some lighter comic touches, especially for the Spader subblot. It's far from his best work but any score from Williams is cause for celebration.

Sally Field is the major weak link, it's really hard to know what to make of her character and a few of her scenes verge on the sentimental in a way that stands out in a film like this. As does the final 5 minutes. The film had a perfect ending a few minutes before it does actually end and that's one of Spielberg's biggest missteps in the film.

But I really did love the whole thing. More than most biopics you comer away feeling as if you know something about the subject, and maybe that's because it eschews normal biopic conventions and just follows a very, very short period of time. With Spielberg at the helm, the lofty dreams of politics and the dirty dealings often necessary to ensure the right thing is done have rarely been so enthralling.

Now I'm off to find some fatuous nincompoops and call them as such.

_________________
We renounce our Maker.
We cleave to the darkness.
We take unto ourselves the power and glory.
Behold! We are the Nine,
The Lords of Unending Life.


Frakkin toasters!

So, what, the murder weapon was a top sirloin?

He's a klutz, Mrs. Landingham. Your president's a geek!
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