I have never been much of a Spielberg fan. Many of his films tend provide the audience with far too easily digestible material. With Lincoln, however, the movie takes a slower pace, and is totally willing to sidetrack into an anecdote or deliver political dialogue that would be a bit over the heads of some.
The obvious highlight of the film is Daniel Day-Lewis. His performance as Lincoln is subtle when he needs to be and loud when it is demanded of him. His stories and tangents are interesting, and one would almost feel inspired to action as if the real president were speaking to you about matters of slavery and war. It’s good stuff. Perhaps not as good as Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, or even Lewis in past films such as There Will Be Blood. However, I have no doubt in my mind that the roll of Lincoln will win Lewis the Oscar. The academy surely loves an accurate and emotional historical roll.
The relationship between Lincoln and his family and how that struggles against the weight of his office is downplayed, but not ignored. It is merely there, in all its subtle power. This was a good decision. Too many films have fallen under the spell of depicting its dramatic domestic moments with much bravado and emotion. The emotion is there, obviously eating at the hearts of the characters, but the film does not tell us what to feel. These emotions almost come totally from within the audiences minds.
On the same note, the way the film handles audience involvement as a whole is fantastic. Emotions are implied and inspired, rather than lectured to us. Political dialogue is abundant and requires thought and processing power, but does not alienate. Tangents and anecdotes within dialogue require the audience to connect the dots, but these remain totally necessary and interesting. The film requires us to think, but is not dry. It ends up being quite interesting and inspiring, and the audience involvement deepens our connection to the material. We feel as though we are living this era because we have to think in this era.
The look of the film was a little lacking, however. The lighting and camerawork were quite good, in fact, so the cinematographer is not to blame. It was rather in the color grading that the problems arise. First of all, it seemed as though the filmmakers were choosing to de-grain their footage, resulting in slightly waxy looking characters. This approach essentially removes the very material on which the film was recorded: the film grain, and replace it with a mere shadow of itself. The color was desaturated a bit too much as well, and many of the scenes were swung a bit too far into the yellow or the blue. Tthe filmmakers should have merely left the image more naturalistic. Period pieces should not necessarily look like faded photographs, a shadow of a dead era. In fact, a rich, organic look most of the time adds to the authenticity of the era because it feels as though the past is alive, rather than dead. Look no further than Barry Lyndon for examples of this.
While Lincoln requires thought and audience participation, it is not entirely difficult to sit through for the average movie-goer. Lewis’s roll provides much entertainment through his masterful handling of such an iconic historical figure, whom we have no motion picture records of. His character seems quite alive as does the era, the people, and… the politics.
Art Direction: 8/10
“Film as Entertainment” Rating: 6/10
“Film as Art” Rating: 9/10