Regular readers know that our film and theater reviews stopped when Joe passed away in early March. Those well-polished loafers of his are ones I choose not to fill. But sometimes I find things that are too good not to discuss.
There's been a lot of ballyhoo about "Lincoln", as there is about all Steven Spielberg's films. I'd avoided said ballyhoo before I saw a screening of the film; now I find these discussions inadequate. Describing "Lincoln" in a 45-second spot or a 5-minute interview is impossible; the scope is just too large.
Nearly all the film is shot in the drabbed, slightly dusty light that is how we tend to think of the Victorian era. The golden lamp-like glow of many interior shots offsets to some degree the layers of velvet curtains and oceans of fringe and furbelows; that same light, often coming in from the side, lends some shots, particularly of some men in the House of Representatives gallery, the air of a Rembrandt portrait.
It's war time, of course, and we see plenty of the huge toll the Civil War extracted from us. Nevertheless, the focus is Lincoln's efforts to get the representatives to pass the 13th Amendment and how that would affect the end of the war, which is very close in the late winter of 1865. It's about the messiness of the political process, and seeing it just after the nastiness of the recent campaign makes it hit home even more. (The vitriol launched on the House floor during the debates on the amendment exceeds by far the acidity, still accepted, in the British House of Commons.) Tony Kushner's screenplay may at times feel a little too contemporary but it flies along. It should; this is 149 minutes long.
Daniel Day-Lewis , like Meryl Streep, has the ability to dissolve himself into the character, giving us the Lincoln we think we know, his son on his lap, and then a stranger, bellowing at his staff in a moment of supreme frustration. Tommy Lee Jones, playing Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful representative who's known as an outspoken abolitionist, is an absolute romp to watch and listen to.
This is a man's movie - that is to say, it's about men, and Mary Lincoln's role is quite secondary, so Sally Field's job is made more difficult. Her emotional difficulties, well-known, and probably a major depression, accounts for her flatness most of the time. St. Louisans who are theater-goers will recognize Stephen McKinley Henderson, here credited as Stephen Henderson, who appeared at the Rep and directed at the Black Rep. And watch for three "fixers", attempting to convince congressmen to vote for the amendment, guys, A. O. Scott in his New York Times says, who "could have stumbled out of Mark Twain".
The details can be exquisite: Listen to the Jollys of Jefferson City being presented to Lincoln to petition for the return of a toll-road job, for instance, Lincoln's storytelling, from trials in Illinois to Ethan Allen in London to quoting Euclid. And lastly, there's John Williams' score, spot on.
Definitely not just for the history buff.
Opens today, November 16 at several theaters.