Manuel Betancourt

Lincoln, or How Kushner’s drawing room talky is riveting

February 24, 2013 · in Film, Oscars

And so it comes to an end. See all the rest of the nominated films reviewed here or by following the tag. I am excitedly baking, preparing for my annual Oscar-themed cupcake party, so despite my allergy to everything Seth McFarlane, I am hoping it will be a good night. If nothing else, we’ll have Adele singing “Skyfall” and maybe a nail-biter of a night in key categories which always makes for a fun and exciting ceremony. See you on the other side!

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee-Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader & John Hawkes.

Oscar Nominations: 12 (Nominations leader!)
Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director (Steven Spielberg) & Best Picture.

The subject matter (and even its marketing) suggested Spielberg’s Lincoln would be stuffy, if exhaustively researched, history lesson on the passing on the thirteenth amendment. That’s not really fair nor very accurate. Kushner’s script manages to make Lincoln’s attempts at abolishing slavery, ending the Civil War, draft a course for reconstruction, maintain some sort of familial stability (not necessarily in that order) while ideologically trying to keep a spirit of bipartisanship that upholds the even then dusty and ambiguously worded constitutional principles, a terse and at times electrifying film. This is obviously due to the assembled cast with Daniel Day-Lewis as the eponymous president whose Lincoln may not be quite the thespian achievement that Daniel Plainview was (though boy do these two performances make for quite an Americana double-bill!) but it is nonetheless a triumph in the way it humanizes Lincoln without losing the albeit hagiographic portrait the film paints. In his hands, Kushner’s dramaturg soliloquies feel less stilted and stagey than they should.

The backdoor politics that make the central plot are quite gripping and timely, and it is only as the film enters its third act that a certain Spielbergian treacly ending (sprinkled with a necessary if overblown sense of embodied American exceptionalism) that it lags, though Jones’s final pleas and tender final scene light up this purposefully dusty chamber piece. A-