Lincoln

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.

 

 

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The Master

Joaquin Phoenix steps up as a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination with his portrayal of a damaged man with anger issues and sexual obsessions in “The Master.”

This is not a movie for everyone. Although it is being booked in multiplexes, as well as art houses, “The Master” will challenge many and leave others unsatisfied. Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson, whose last film was “There Will Be Blood,” has assembled a film that is, above all, compelling. It’s one that has already generated much discussion with more to come.

“The Master” is more about its characters than its plot. The film is a series of episodes, some of which move slowly. In these episodes, we see how the film’s characters respond to the things life throws their way.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the title role. His character, Lancaster Dodd, is patterned after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder and leader of Scientology. Dodd, like many others in the movie, takes an immediate liking to Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell.

Quell falls under Dodd’s spell and embraces The Cause, Dodd’s quasi-religious movement. Dodd is similar to numerous charismatic leaders we’ve encountered in history, some of whom can be seen on your TV every week. Dodd is, however, a generally likable guy, even though he serves up mumbo jumbo about “past lives.”

Quell becomes a member of Dodd’s entourage and Dodd begins to “work” with Freddie. Is it therapy or is Quell a guinea pig for Dodd’s techniques?

Eventually, Quell breaks away but in the end returns to Dodd, who is then in England. Dodd’s reaction to seeing Freddie again brings up questions about the true nature of their relationship.

Among the supporting cast is Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife Peggy. She wields her power from the sideline. She supports Dodd in his quest to grow support for The Cause but makes sure he has her input.

One more thing: most of the movie is set in the year 1950 and the clothes are terrific.

Should you see “The Master?” Yes, if only to witness Joaquin Phoenix’s mighty acting skill. Even if you don’t like “The Master” as a movie, this performance will astound you.