Ok. So this film is a very loooooooonnnnnnng historical drama about Abraham Lincoln, the 16th (thanks Wikipedia) President of the United States, and his effort to legally overthrow slavery in the last months of the American Civil War. Essentially the movie follows Lincoln as he simultaneously struggles to attend to his family’s demands, the demands of the cabinet (given his desire to get the Emancipation Proclamation passed) and the pressure of the war.
First off, this movie should come with a BIG warning: ONLY WATCH THIS IF YOU’RE AMERICAN! But even if you’re American, I suggest you think twice before viewing it. Unless of course you’re a high school teacher and need to take up some – I mean a lot – of time in history class.
In fact, so turgid was this bloated and self-important turkey of a film that I was truly relieved when Lincoln got assassinated (not a spoiler ‘coz it’s history) and the movie ended. Don’t get me wrong, I like the historical figure that is Abraham Lincoln and I think he did great work (and slavery was totally horrendous of course!) but this is just a shockingly bad movie. (And no, I’m not kidding).
It is true that Daniel Day-Lewis gives a damn fine…eh…impersonation of Lincoln; but it is not an earth-shattering stampede of a performance that completely floors you (and this is exactly what the film presumes it’s giving you). So well done Daniel but no, not Golden Globe worthy, I’m sorry. (Jesus, he’s gonna get the Oscar isn’t he…?)
Cold on Daniel’s heels is Sally Field with her mind-boggling performance as Lincoln’s ‘complex’ wife, Mary Todd Lincoln a.k.a. the First Lady. This is the most shocking example of over-acting I have seen in years (totally Oscar-worthy then!) It’s comically bad. I promise. And it’s even more shocking to think that Spielberg directed her in this way and thought it was a good performance.
Actually, the whole film feels excessively theatrical and not really very measured at all. And this is half the problem: the scale, gravitas and harsh (but what should be ultimately moving) reality of the historically epic situation this film purports to convey is entirely suffocated (rather than enhanced) by the actors’ over-serious theatricality.
In fact, so caricatural are the performances that it is a truly refreshing experience when Joseph Gorden-Levitt, who plays Licoln’s son Robert, suddenly appears and walks up a corridor and into a room with determination. “Finally, salvation! A REAL film star!” I even caught myself thinking in quiet disbelief when I saw his youthful, charismatic flesh breeze by the screen.
And Christ almighty that really says it all doesn’t it? If Joseph Gorden-Levitt comes off like the Adonis-king of the acting world you know that everyone else must be truly past their on-screen acting-technique sell-by dates. So I think it’s time to just say it: “Dear Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Day-Lewis, Ms. Field and, of course, Mr. Tommy Lee Jones (and maybe Mr. James Spader too), please stop acting in and/or making stylistically excessive films which unintentionally border on parody!”
Verdict: One thumb (fully) down, one thumb (three-quarters way) down.