Politics was a dirty business even in the 19th century, and even when changing history for the better, as the best moments of Lincoln wittily and elegantly prove. Steven Spielberg's behemoth of a new film, which premiered in unfinished form at the New York film festival Monday night, has a title that suggests a sweeping portrait of the great 16th American president. But the film is largely too content depicting Abraham Lincoln as an all-knowing icon, and even with Daniel Day-Lewis's beautifully measured (and surprisingly soft-spoken) performance, Lincoln often recedes to the background of the very uneven movie that bears his name.
We visit the battlefield a few times, with General Ulysses S Grant (Jared Harris) preparing to negotiate peace with the Confederacy, but Lincoln is largely set in the cramped chambers of the White House and Congress; between that and the many speeches about constitutional law, it can start to feel a little airless. Glimpses into Lincoln's personal life, including strained relationships with both his wife (Sally Field) and eldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are intended to add a human dimension to the president, but they're never as effective as simply seeing the man at work; Gordon-Levitt has had a fantastic year in other films, but his character here is entirely superfluous, and Field brings tremendous overacting to a cast that's otherwise quite restrained.
Lincoln isn't as sentimental as you might expect from Spielberg, and though it never digs deep enough into Lincoln as a man, it's unafraid to show him as a canny politician willing to bend the law and make enormous compromises to accomplish a greater goal. With John Williams's gentle score, posh cinematography from Janusz Kaminski and a whole load of big costumes and facial hair for the cast, Lincoln veers too often toward becoming a somnolent period piece, but the strong cast and political texture always manage to perk things back up. Though it might have worked better as a tighter, purely political thriller with even less focus on the title character, Lincoln's smarty-pants pleasures manage to outweigh its stuffy drawbacks.
Text and Image Source: The Gaurdian
CWL: Lincoln will be released in the US on November 9, 2012