MOVIE REVIEW: Lincoln
Here at Movies You Should Love, we don’t so much review movies as we discuss them. We welcome any and all contributions to this discussion, so let us commence, shall we?
This is how you make a biopic.
So many times filmmakers forget that they are first and foremost storytellers and, when approaching a historical character, become documentarians. They create a three hour movie that covers their subject’s entire life, filling every minute and every frame with every memorable moment and quote we know that person is famous for — but fail to answer why we should care or why this person is worthy of our praise. One of my largest frustrations with Oliver Stone’s Alexander was that Stone failed to convey what made Alexander “the Great.”
From my film school classroom and from our podcast, I have pleaded with filmmakers, “if you’re going to make a movie about some great person, select a moment from their life that encapsulates that person. Tell me that story. If you do it right, I will walk away knowing everything I need to know about that person.” Lincoln is just such a film.
Focusing on the weeks leading up to the passing of the 13th Amendment, we get to see Lincoln the Orator, Lincoln the Diplomat, Lincoln the Father and Husband, Lincoln the Lawyer, Lincoln the President and, what he really was, Lincoln the Politician. It is the perfect subject of a movie and it plays like The West Wing: The Civil War Years. What’s wonderful about it, too, is that it leaves room for many other Lincoln-inspired films or HBO mini-series.
Our fourteen year-old daughter enjoy the movie, but she did complain afterwards, “it was good, it was just kind of slow.” Slow isn’t the word I would use. I would say it was methodical. Every scene has a purpose and furthers the story. Moreover, every scene is filled with phenomenal actors turning in some of their finest performances. While this may be in large part due to the spectacular cast that has been assembled to tell this story, a lot of credit has to go to Tony Kushner‘s script. It’s a script that demands you pay attention, that sounds and feels authentic to the time, yet is completely approachable to today’s audience. He has also filled the script with delightful and memorable characters who all do their best to steal the movie. But no-one steals a movie from Daniel Day-Lewis.
From beginning to end, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ movie. He creates a Lincoln that somehow feels fresh, alive, human, and also completely legendary and the stuff of myths. It would be easy to play our sixteenth president as austere and grandiose and all-knowing. But this Lincoln is one who is only certain of his convictions. He knows what he believes, but he’s never sure if that’s enough to get done what needs to get done.
Like any movie based on a historical moment, you know how the story ends before you even sit down. But when a movie based on a historical moment is done right, the ending doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that counts. It’s the telling of that story. Lincoln is such a movie. Though it could, it never panders to the audience. It never delivers lines with a nudge or a wink. The filmmakers know you know how this turns out. The filmmakers also know, however, that you don’t know how it turned out the way it did — and they set out to tell that story.
I give it my enthusiastic stamp of approval. If you like a good historical yarn or if you’re fascinated by politics, this movie is for you.