Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to agree with Brandon, and there’s no point in prevaricating - LINCOLN is a wonderful film.  Loquacious, literate, and adeptly crafted, it flourishes as both engrossing political procedural and gregarious yarn.  I was engaged for the entire two and a half hours it was on screen, often with a winsome smile on my face.  It’s the most flat-out entertaining film Steven Spielberg has made since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and MINORITY REPORT.  Ample credit deserves to be passed around to almost all involved here: Spielberg, certainly, for his cinematic wisdom and assured caretaking, Tony Kushner for his eloquence and ferocious intelligence, Jannusz Kaminski for his unadorned by resonant images, Daniel Day-Lewis for his superhuman ability to transfigure himself entirely into every role, and the rest of the cast for being so spirited and plucky (a robust Tommy Lee Jones and hilarious James Spader jump out most to mind here).  As Brandon has delineated, LINCOLN is by no means a perfect film, but it is a damn good bit of moviemaking.  To me, that simple fact alone trumps any of its problematic representations or political themes.  I am a film lover, so the art of moviemaking is, after all, what I’m most concerned with.  LINCOLN has this essential artistry in spades.

The best thing I can say about it (apart from how well acted it is) is how greatly it understands that words are weapons.  This is where Kushner’s skill as a playwright comes most assuredly to the forefront and where the picture thrives.  Words are brandished by characters throughout to challenge one another, to provoke one another, to gain the upper hand over one another.  The way that words are wielded in the film is so effusive and cutting, they soothe and lash in equal degree, and always with an aim and purpose in mind. I was reminded of good theater, but also classical Hollywood filmmaking.  Sometimes we forget just how absorbing it can be to merely watch people in a room talking to each other.

Another great thing about LINCOLN is that it understands that the best way to celebrate the man it depicts without resorting to excessive rhapsody is to have a strong sense of humor about itself and gentility about his character.  The humor is where the film most surprised me, and I believe also helped to give it more gravity.  It’s the lighter comedic moments that give the dramatic ones their weight.  And it's Lincoln's tenderness as a father, listener, and orator that gives him his allure and grandeur.  He's a shrewd political tactician and a not-as-altruistic-as-he-seems leader on human rights, but he's also a man who genuinely seems to enjoy interacting with others (even if he is harboring deep pain and regret).

I didn’t read those Lincoln articles that were linked, but I don’t think the film values moderates over radicals. I think it values the painstaking process by which synthesis is achieved.  It depicts in vivid and often amusing detail the sort of effort that went into (and still goes into) producing a desired result in the American political landscape.  Politics in America have always been more of a game than the earnest representations of its democracy.  But games can be fun to watch, even when we know how they will end.  LINCOLN itself is an elegant game played by experts that we know the outcome of.  The joy in watching is not in re-discovering who wins or loses, but in admiring the dexterity of the strokes involved.

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