By all accounts this should have been a home run, designed to tug the heartstrings and educate at the same time. But “Lincoln” finds director Steven Spielberg at his stuffiest, seemingly overwhelmed by the importance of it all to tell much of a story. It’s more like Four Snores And Seven Yawns ago.
Daniel Day-Lewis is stymied as well playing a character who still looms large in the collective consciousness. He plays Lincoln as folksy yet shrewd, beholden to the constitution but not above bending the rules. Lewis’ Lincoln is just as likely to tell a humorous story in the middle of a war room as issue an emancipation proclamation. His tall lanky frame and wiry hair lend itself to the role and He tries to humanize our nation’s 16th President. But he never fully slips inside his skin. However to be fair It’s doubtful anyone can truly embody Lincoln at this point.
The film begins with a bang, showcasing the horrors of war by focusing on the individual brutality required of the soldiers who fight it. But it turns out to be just a tease. Audiences expecting Saving Private Ryan- Lincoln Style are in for something else entirely. It’s slow, ponderous, and pompous. Most of the real fireworks happen in the background, the Civil War is alluded to but rarely shown. Instead Spielberg’s” Lincoln” focuses mostly on the behind the scenes horse trading involving Lincoln’s push to pass the 13th amendment which abolished slavery.
This isn’t a bad approach necessarily. Presidents and their legacies are often shaped by their ability to get things done. But every time Lincoln threatens to become enthralling Spielberg’s uncharacteristically ham-fisted direction yanks us out of the scene and reminds us we’re watching not just a movie, but an important movie.
Everyone here seems to be auditioning for their Oscars, and that goes for Sally Field too as Lincoln’s famously histrionic and batty wife Mary Todd. Their scenes together have the stagey haughty dialogue of a play while failing to make these historical figures live and breathe. The one exception is Tommy Lee Jones as an extreme abolitionist ally. He’s giving a performance too, but at least he’s being entertaining.
The film is simultaneously too bloated and too narrow to become truly engaging. It eschews the big climaxes and set pieces opting for simple scenes of dialogue between 19th century bearded blokes in a variety of rooms. But it never comes close to intimacy, feeling instead like more attention had been paid to the accoutrements of the sets than the script.
Lincoln the movie is never awful and it’s full of old pros who know how to make a solid credible movie. But it never comes close to capturing what made Lincoln so interesting in the first place.