Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Take: Lincoln


Lincoln 12-11-12

  A few months ago, I posted my first movie review.  It’s been a while since that undertaking, so I thought I’d try another one.

  Today, Brian and I finally got around to seeing Lincoln.  It has been on our to-do list since it opened a few weeks ago, but it’s just never worked out.  But now he’s off work for the holidays, and I’m (mostly) done with school, so a weekday matinee like  a couple of old retired folks seemed like the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

   I will say that I am usually the one who picks our movies, because Brian typically doesn’t care one way or the other.  But this was one of the exceptions, as he’s something of a history buff, particularly the Civil War era.  And, really, if asked, I would probably have said it wouldn’t bother me not to see it, as I’m not much on historical dramas, but as I said, I usually get to pick, so it’s only fair to go along with his choices when there’s something he really wants to see.

I also would likely have listed the star as a potential drawback, though I feel quite certain I’d be in the minority there.  It’s not that I dislike Daniel Day-Lewis.  In truth, I haven’t seen most of his work.  I’ve seen parts of My Left Foot, but it never really drew me in, though it’s exactly the sort of story I like to see in my movies.  I did not care for There Will Be Blood.  I don’t particularly like movies that just sort of leave me feeling depressed, and that one did.  Still, if I’d stayed away because of the actor, it would’ve been a mistake; I thought Day-Lewis did a remarkable job.  Granted, it’s not like I’ve got live footage from CNN of his character to compare, but everyone sort of has an idea of how people from history were, right?  And I absolutely believed he was President Lincoln; never doubted it for a second.

But the film did have one thing in the pro column right from the beginning, a really big thing: Spielberg.  I have loved Steven Spielberg for as long as I can remember.  In fact, I loved his work before I even knew it.  There are two things I remember watching on TV as a kid that really imprinted on me, and I watched them whenever I could.  One was a movie, Duel, and one an episode of Night Gallery called “Eyes”. 

I don’t know if I watched Duel because of Dennis Weaver, or if I watched McCloud because of Duel, I just know I watched them both.  I also don’t know if I ever actually saw Duel in a theater, but I know I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, maybe twice that.  And I haven’t seen it in at least twenty years, which means I watched it an awful lot in my youth. 

As for “Eyes”, it was actually part of the pilot episode of Night Gallery, back in the day when shows had multiple story segments each week.  Sometimes NG could be a little creepier than I normally like (including one of the other segments of that episode, something with the wonderful Roddy McDowall), but “Eyes” wasn’t as much creepy as it was thought provoking, and an interesting character study.  I haven’t seen any of Night Gallery in a long time, but whenever I notice a channel is running it, I try to find a showing of this episode.

But it was years later, after Jaws, and maybe even after Raiders of the Lost Ark (though that seems awfully late), before I realized the connection between the major blockbusters I was falling in love with and the magical stories of my youth.  But I digress.  Suffice it to say that if a film is directed by Mr. Spielberg, that’s just about reason enough to buy a ticket.  This time is no exception.

So, what about Lincoln?  Set against the backdrop of the final months of the Civil War, it’s the story of the passage of the 13th amendment.  As mentioned, Daniel Day-Lewis has the title role, and he’s joined by a sturdy supporting cast:  Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader, and a host of others.  It’s a testament to their skills that even someone who doesn’t care for period pieces didn’t spend the whole film thinking about this as a “historical” film.  I normally don’t like the costumes and the vernacular, and all the attempts to make everything seem like it’s happening in another time—it can be very distracting.  Not so here.  They didn’t seem like caricatures acting out an “old fashioned” story, but just characters, with an interesting story to tell.  Also, give major credit to everyone involved that tension and drama could be created out of an event that everyone in the audience learned about in grade school.  If that’s not an example of fine filmmaking, I don’t know what is. 

Is the film historically accurate?  I don’t know.  I mean, I think it’s likely pretty close, but the depicted events happened a long time ago, and happened in the maelstrom of war and politics; I’m guessing neither of those things were much more transparent back then than they are today.  So, as with all history, I’m sure some of it is research and some of it is conjecture.  And, it’s a movie, so I’m sure some of it is simply contrived to make a better story.  But that’s okay.  Because it is a really good story. 

Have you seen Lincoln?  What did you think?