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Lincoln Is Fucking Crazy!!!

Just Kidding! Lincoln Is Exactly What You Expect!

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OSCAR BAIT doesn't get much more baiting than this: Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis with a Tony Kushner script about the final months of America's most beloved, tragic president. By and large, Lincoln wanders many of the same paths Spielberg's other Oscar bait-y films have taken—this one feels particularly like Amistad, though there's some War Horse in here too. Lincoln is a generally well-made film, but it's also one stitched together from Day-Lewis' dramatic monologues and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's reverential sepia tones: Even when it tries to humanize Lincoln, it's mostly just here to reaffirm what a Great Man he was and how he made some Very Important History.

Kushner smartly sidesteps the weakness of most biopics—trying to fit everything in—by keeping Lincoln focused on the end of Lincoln's life, as the Civil War wraps up and he gets all sneaky in his attempts to force the House into ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment. Simultaneously finishing up a brutal war and trying to end slavery makes for a few challenges, which means Lincoln leans heavily on both his savvy secretary of state, William Seward (David Strathairn), and professional cantankerous bastard Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a Pennsylvania representative who gleefully pisses off as many people as possible. There are about a billion other people here, too, from Lincoln's wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) to his son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) to shady political operative W.N. Bilbo (James Spader, who basically steals every scene he's in, even when he's going up against Day-Lewis). Not only is there a lot going on, but whenever Lincoln's involved—which is almost always—the history-defining significance of each of his words and actions weighs the picture down.

It's when Spielberg too-briefly wanders off and focuses on Stevens or Bilbo that Lincoln starts to feel lively and sharp—less like a reverent tribute, and more like a series of events that real people experienced. If there's one thing Lincoln illustrates, it's the difference between a well-crafted film (which Lincoln is) and a film that's interesting (which Lincoln isn't): I'm unable to point to any element of Lincoln that doesn't more or less work as it's supposed to, but it's largely a film that just doesn't intend to do much. Some of it is rousing and some of it is sappy, and all of it will be vaguely familiar to everyone who didn't fail eighth-grade US history, and that's about it.

That's not to say there isn't some great stuff here, mostly when it comes to the performances: Jones, Spader, and Strathairn are fantastic, and there are solid turns from the grab bag of stars who basically make cameos. As every poster, every ad, and almost every frame reminds us, though, this is Day-Lewis' movie, and he's as unrecognizable and powerful as ever. He's a great Lincoln—and even if Spielberg's movie isn't all that great, it gets the job done. Which, when it comes to your annual dose of Oscar bait, is about all that one can reasonably expect.

Related Film

Lincoln

Official Site: thelincolnmovie.com

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producer: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Jonathan King, Daniel Lupi and Jeff Skoll

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Jones, Lee Pace, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Costabile, Jackie Haley, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jared Harris, Walton Goggins, Gulliver McGrath, Peter McRobbie, Gloria Reuben and John Hawkes

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