The problems with “Lincoln” include a bad script, a slow pace and a dark, almost monochromatic look. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe, though, is terrific!
Tony Kushner, who wrote the script, is known primarily as a writer of stage plays. This script is like those written for certain 1930’s movies, which were little more than filmed plays. Too many long, ponderous speeches give “Lincoln” a stale formality that belies the urgency of the situation. Sadly, Kushner’s script sets the film medium back a few decades.
This film moves very slowly. Do not attempt to watch “Lincoln” after having dinner and a couple of drinks. I’m serious. You’ll nod off.
The lack of color is almost distracting. Yes, the story is set in the winter of 1865 and indoor lighting was primitive then, but please, Steven Spielberg, don’t make it so drab.
The reason to see “Lincoln” is to witness another killer performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He inhabits the role with a surprisingly gentle touch. Unlike the big, boisterous characters DDL played in “There Will Be Blood” and “Gangs of New York,” his Lincoln is subdued. We see him pounding a table in the movie’s trailer, but that’s not the Lincoln we see during the vast majority of the movie.
The film’s story centers on Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th amendment passed and put an end to slavery. He knows that the war is likely to end soon. He plays politics and cuts deals to persuade members of Congress to pass it before hostilities end.
Supporting cast includes Sally Field as wife Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as son Robert, Hal Holbrook as a liaison between warring parties, Tommy Lee Jones as congressman Thaddeus Stevens and a chubby James Spader as political operative.
Director Steven Spielberg has made a flawed movie, which, nonetheless, will be shown in high school history classes for decades to come. Despite the shortcomings of “Lincoln,” the movie, we get a good impression of Lincoln, the man. Instead of thinking of him as the stoic figure on our money and in portraits and statues, we can now think of him as a living, breathing man. That is “Lincoln’s” saving grace.