Saturday, November 17, 2012

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln

This week's movie was "Lincoln" the Spielberg epic, with Daniel Day-Lewis.

I liked it.

But I should disclose that I'm a huge Lincoln buff. One of my all-time favorite books is Gore Vidal's historical novel "Lincoln". And I read, and enjoyed, Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" soon after it was published.

So I came to this movie with a lot of expectations, and I wasn't disappointed.

It's a commentary about Day-Lewis' talent, and body of work, that we had huge expectations about his performance here, and he delivers, seemingly effortlessly. I've spent a lot of time imagining what Lincoln must have been like, and Day-Lewis showed me just what I'd imagined, and more. The voice. The walk. The sense of humor. The sadness. The tragic life. All good stuff.

The supporting cast is pretty interesting. Many familiar actors. During the first 30 minutes or so I was distracted by all these well known faces. I was wondering if it was a mistake to allow us to be "taken out" of the illusion so much. But somewhere along the line I forgot that these weren't actually the people they were portraying.

Tommy Lee Jones is a perfect example. His first scenes were jarring, as I remembered him from various action characters. And the wig he wore in this movie was disturbing. But soon he was the character, and a great character it turns out to be. And the bad wig, well, you'll see.

Hal Holbrook is Hal Holbrook. Playing a character we've seen him play many times before. And it never gets old.

One of my favorite minor characters was James Spader as a political operative/bagman. I first became a Spader fan with the "Boston Legal" TV show. I've missed him since that. In "Lincoln" his character is a bit cartoonish, but not too much. It provides some relief from the oh so serious storyline, while still moving the plot along in some important ways.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is interesting to me. I first watched him as the young, teen son, Tommy, on the legendary sitcom "Third Rock from the Sun". From the start of that series I was impressed with him for his comic chops, and his ability, as such a young actor, to keep up with the energy and talent of the likes of French Stewart and John Lithgow.

But I confess that as TRftS moved through its multi year run Tommy unavoidably aged, from the cute kid with an attitude, to a young adult character, that just didn't seem to work in this classic farce sitcom. I thought that maybe at age 14 he'd peeked as an actor. When the sitcom ended, 11 years ago, he dropped off my radar.

Now, in the past couple years, I'm seeing Joe (as he apparently likes to be called) all over the place. Working with the oh-so-hot Zooey Deschanel; as front-man for the collaborative media site; making a dark turn in the potentially classic sci-fi "Looper"; "Inception"; and now in a minor, but important, part in "Lincoln". I was wrong. He didn't peak as a 14 year old. He's pretty good.

And of course, Sally Field as Mary Lincoln. She doesn't shy from playing this disturbing historical figure as disturbing. But she and Day-Lewis manage to show us the bittersweet bond that underlies their dysfunctional, tragic relationship. And Fields shows us another, apparently accurate, aspect of Mary Todd's personality. During the brief moments when her madness abated, she could be as savvy and tough a political player as her husband.

No surprise, the screenplay by Tony Kushner is terrific. Fitting all these players together. Giving Day-Lewis material to soar with, but without relegating the other players to the shadows. Mixing Lincoln's legendary story-telling wit with the tragedy, and the hope for making a better nation. It's quite a challenge for a screen-writer. And he pulled it off.

Visually the movie is also outstanding. The color palette is very dark, a rusty gray, befitting the age, and the ongoing tragedy. But punctuated with moments of brightness and color.

One shot that really caught my attention is a scene between Lincoln and Mary, as they commiserate about the challenges of their lives. Mary sits on a bed silhouetted against a pure dark background, while Lincoln stands beside her silhouetted by a fiery bright window. They reach out to each other, between the dark and the light, to hold hands and try to find their connection. Awesome image.

So the cast and the writing and the images are pretty awesome. I loved it. Can't wait to see it again. But I wonder how others will take to it.

It's not Skyfall. Not an action movie (with the exception of one brutal, battle scene at the beginning which set up the background horror of it all). It's a talking movie. A lot of talking.

Don't get me wrong, the talking was terrific. It'll probably win awards. But the movie-going public are not always big on this kind of thing. I wonder how many will react as I did.

Having said that, the turnout when I was there was notable. I went to the second show of the first day that it opened "wide" here in the US. The box office told me that the first (11:30 a.m.!) showing had sold out. And the 3:05 pm I attended, although not full, had a very respectable crowd.

But here's an even more telling thing. The crowd, at least for the one showing I was at, was very old. Perhaps it was more about who is able to go to a movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon. But I was like the youngest person in the room. And (sadly) that doesn't happen very often these days.

So will this movie sell a lot of tickets? And if it does will it be because it attracts an older audience? That aspect will be interesting to follow.

Anyway, I liked "Lincoln". A lot. I definitely give it two thumbs up.

Lincoln the man was a fascinating figure, and a pivotal leader in our nation's history. This movie did a great job of showing that to me, in a moving, and entertaining, way.

1 comment:

  1. Great review Jack. Didn’t love the movie, but definitely had a good time with it and loved every second of Daniel Day’s performance. He will definitely get a nomination this year.