I was lucky enough to see Lincoln two weeks before its release. The advantage of this being that I can review it before most people get a chance to see the film and therefore bring vital eyes to the site. As such I have waited until after the film has hit cinemas to put fingers to keys try to review this dramatic behemoth. So why have I done this? Am I secretly trying to sabotage my own website? Surprisingly, no. The truth is that I’m scared.
Lincoln has been nominated for a whopping 12 Oscars this year and has critical acclaim seeping out of its every pore and yet… I found it dull. I’m not trying to be controversial and say that the most praised film of the year is bad as Lincoln is clearly not a bad film. It is possible though for a fine leading performance, stunning photography, and a subject of historic importance to culminate in a two and a half hour masterpiece that literally sent me to sleep in the early afternoon.
With such an extensive running time you might expect Lincoln to cover the length and breadth of Abe’s life but instead the film focuses on a four-month period in which the titular character campaigns to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives. The amendment in question would abolish slavery and hopefully end the civil war in the process. With what is essentially a period political drama on his hands Stephen Spielberg is robbed of any action set-pieces and so takes on an unusually subtle directorial style as he is faced with endless scenes of bearded men talking in rooms.
The men in question are lit beautifully, are garnished with the finest beards Hollywood can produce, and are played by a diverse cast of character actors but their exploits border on the mundane. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a typically authentic performance as the late US president but his Lincoln is a calm and considered man whose gentle voice and subtle mannerisms did not help me to maintain consciousness.
Looking back at the film I find it hard to comprehend how Spielberg managed to stretch this story into such a long film. In the short period I dozed for I missed none of the plot as progress was slow and a little grating. Lincoln may well be beautifully shot and contain acting of the highest calibre but it long overstays its welcome and does not appear to have even heard of pacing. Bizarrely for a film this epic in length and with a focus on slavery we never see the misery of slavery itself or are shown the improvements that the amendment brings to the country.
All this negativity aside credit goes to Lee Pace, James Spader, and Tommy Lee Jones for stealing the show from Daniel Day-Lewis and commiserations to Joseph Gordon-Levitt for not having a lot to do.
There is every chance that Lincoln will win a good proportion of its Oscar nominations but frankly I don’t think it deserves to. There’s a good film hiding in Lincoln but a serious amount of editing is needed to get to the heart of the story. For a film with a foregone conclusion for an ending, it takes far too long to get to it.
Yes, three stars. I’m not brave enough to give it less.