By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Director Steven Spielberg seems like the “no-brainer” director for a historical drama of a movie on the sixteenth President of the United States and his struggles to preserve our nation and end a costly and bloody war on our soil.  Spielberg certainly has proven himself worthy of emotionally driven and uplifting films shot gorgeously with the stellar production values one expects from his movies. However, with his latest film, I can’t help but feel that stylistically and in his selection of content, that he has fallen into a creative rut of Oscar bait movies.  While his previous movie, War Horse, looked gorgeous, it felt like the sentimentality is forced to manipulate their audiences. In the case of Lincoln, Spielberg does have his moments of cinematic magic, but also has his saccharine, sometimes overly grandiose, Oscar baiting scenes. In addition, the script has way too many dull scenes and stretches the film much longer than necessary.

Daniel Day Lewis portrays Abraham Lincoln and does so amazingly well.  The film begins at the heart of the American Civil War. Lincoln’s plan to unify the country involves not only winning the war on the battlefield, but also winning his morality war against slavery. Lincoln faces opposition in Congress and even within his own cabinet. A strong willed gentleman, the President and his supporters use their political skills to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed making slavery illegal in the United States.

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Tony Kushner’s script falters by taking the audience through the whole grueling political process of getting the amendment passed.  As I previously stated, the film does have its beautiful and emotional moments, but also contains those emotionally manipulative scenes that have “Oscar Clip” written all over them. I was actually grateful, that Kushner and Spielberg had a sense of humor about it, though.  One, particularly hilarious scene, where Lincoln is about to tell a parable to argue a point, a character chides something like, “Oh no he’s telling another story!” or “making another speech!” I don’t remember the exact line, but it’s true. The Lincoln character, as admirable and lovable as he is, seems to love the sound of his own voice, always making magnanimous speeches and addresses. As with War Horse before it, Lincoln feels like its filmmakers are trying way too hard to score Oscar gold and it’s a bit annoying.

As with the production value, one usually expects an outstanding cast from a Spielberg movie and this movie is no exception.  In fact, it seems like almost every actor who’s hot or hip right now is in this movie. I won’t go down the entire list, but will note the standouts.  I enjoyed Sally Field as the first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward.  Tommy Lee Jones delivers his signature grouchy performance as Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens, and it works well here.  My favorite characters, though, have to be the Thirteenth Amendment lobbyists portrayed by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson.  These characters and the actors who portray them bring a much needed comic relief to this sometimes dull and overly dramatic picture.

That’s why the film gets such a low rating from me.  I felt that the movie drags on way too long and the overt attempts at cinematic magic falter. The story and material for an outstanding movie is there. It’s in our history.  I just wish Spielberg and his writers would stop trying so hard to manipulate their audiences every time.  This technique is growing a bit stale.  I will recommend this film as a matinee, as it looks gorgeous and should be viewed on the big screen, but as aesthetically pleasing it is, the writing leaves much to be desired. There was a time when I beamed at the chance to see a new Steven Spielberg movie.  Now I’m not quite as enthusiastic.

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