Review: LINCOLN (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: LINCOLN (2012)

RATING: 1.5/5

At the time of this writing, Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN has won numerous awards including BAFTA and Golden Globes as well as scoring 12 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis. Not only that, the historical epic was widely greeted with (near) universal praises among top critics and viewers when it was released last November in the US. Even the US box office grosses was really impressive, which was currently sitting at $173.6 million against the modest $65 million budget. Now that the highly-acclaimed LINCOLN have finally reaches our local shore (which will be open nationwide on February 21), is the movie really that praiseworthy? I hate to say this, but LINCOLN has to be one of the most overrated movies ever made in recent memory. How this movie could have ended up such a praiseworthy historical epic is seriously beyond me.

Partially adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Teams of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, this historical epic focusing on the last few months of Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) life as he tries to convince and manipulate the Congress into passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would officially end slavery and also allow people to vote regardless of race. At the same time, Lincoln is also facing the ongoing Civil War during his second term as the 16th US president.

First of all, LINCOLN is unlike any historical epic Steven Spielberg has ever done before in his illustrious directing career. There's nothing majestic or even any sense of epic grandeur normally expected from Steven Spielberg. Instead, he and screenwriter Tony Kushner opted the most unconventional way by shifting a larger-than-life historical figure like Abraham Lincoln into a deeply personal, yet intimate portrait of the 16th US president. Suffice to say, everything in LINCOLN is heavily constrained into a chamber drama. At the surface level, such radical approach is certainly ambitious but unfortunately, both Spielberg and Kushner are not Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet in term of executing a movie heavy on dialogue.

As a result, this lengthy 149-minute LINCOLN feels like watching the paint dry. While I have to applaud Kushner's meticulous detail on how US backroom politics are achieved during the mid-19th century, his overall screenplay feels too static to warrant this as an intriguing drama worth paying attention for. Then there's Spielberg's delicate, yet plodding direction where he is hopelessly out of touch. By stripping his usual lively direction to a skeletal core, his attempt on minimalist direction fails miserably to sustain the momentum and pacing of the movie. Further damaging the overall structure of the movie is Michael Kahn's poor editing, while John Williams' score is almost non-existent and Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is so drab and uninspired with far too many static shots.

As for the huge ensemble which was heavily praised by the US critics, I can say that only Daniel Day-Lewis deserves some, but not all, praises in his uncanny turn as Abraham Lincoln. But that is as far as he goes. His so-called subdued acting leaves little to be desired of, and frankly, his supposedly layered performance comes across too single-minded and dare I say, boring. Apart from what we know as one of the most beloved US presidents who made a great achievement by abolishing slavery, both Spielberg and Kushner fail to scratch beyond the surface of Lincoln's life. As Mary Todd, Sally Field is equally wasted as Lincoln's estranged First Lady. The rest of the supporting actors are forgettable as well -- from Tommy Lee Jones' fairly adequate turn as Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's sadly thankless role as eldest son Robert Lincoln.

LINCOLN is a terribly misguided effort. I don't blame Spielberg for trying something different in his usual approach on a historical epic genre, but this is the kind of movie where it should be directed by someone else more qualified. Seriously, LINCOLN deserves far better treatment than this lifeless movie.

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