Saturday 26 January 2013

Lincoln (2013) - Steven Spielberg

The importance of family is a key theme in Spielberg's oeuvre and Lincoln is no different.  This film shows us the human behind the enigmatic figure - he is the President, a husband and a father.  Even during the voting scene, the climax, he is sat at home with his son.  Like a grandfather to the people, he is a charismatic storyteller with a propensity for rambling speeches.  

Only an actor of the calibre of Daniel Day-Lewis could pull off such a performance.  Such a monumental figure in American history requires a similarly renowned actor.  He is instantly recognisable and believable as the President, statuesque in his movements and poses.  Wisely, Spielberg allows Day-Lewis to take hold of the film with a remarkable central performance.

Ultimately, though, Lincoln is a slow, dialogue heavy history lesson.  The first half, especially, is a dirge-like trudge through endless speeches.  Little is done to explain the intricacies of American politics to a non-American audience.  As such, it’s easy to get lost in the narrative’s complexities for anyone not immediately familiar with American history.

Finally the plot picks up some pace during the voting scene, but even this carries little dramatic weight as we already know the outcome.  The abolishment of slavery is seen less as the emancipation of ‘coloured people’ and more a political victory for the white man.  Lincoln’s agenda is concerned with the Union, saving the American people from civil war (especially his own plucky son, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and not disappointing his wife.  Besides the very opening, Lincoln rarely interacts with black people, appearing mostly ambivalent.  Mirroring this, many of the black actors are shunned to the sidelines of each frame.  His motives therefore appear less honourable than history assumes.

Themes included, Lincoln is a most Spielbergian of films.  Each speech is filmed with slow, lingering shots accompanied by John Williams’ stirring score (who else?) that dictates how we should feel.  It’s saccharine and overly sentimental.  The close cleverly subverts the theatrics of Lincoln’s assassination.  Yet it’s glossed over in favour of romanticising a figure whose actions influenced modern history, but perhaps not for the reasons we might expect.  This is ET for American politicians.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis worthy of his best actor nomination?  Absolutely.  But with the best picture nomination, the Academy have been blinded by jingoistic pride.