After five minutes of Lincoln, I was sitting back in my seat, confident in my knowledge that this film was going to be good. The introduction—a violent scene of battle followed by a dramatic reveal shot of Lincoln and a conversation about the Emancipation Proclamation—is one of the movie’s highlights.
Thirty minutes into Lincoln, I was getting nervous. There was scene after plodding scene of Lincoln and a vast retinue of advisors, supporters, and political adversary discussing the intricacies of passing a constitutional amendment in more detail than most historical films would bother troubling with. While the attention to detail was commendable, I began to ask myself—was this it? Political maneuvering and back-room parleying? Where was the drama? The character development? Thirty minutes into Lincoln, I had resigned myself to two and a half hours of boredom.
So it was a very welcome surprise to find my expectations proved wrong. Lincoln has a lull, to be sure, a lull that lasts until about the thirty minutes mark—and then it finally takes off. The politicking never really lets up, but it is supplemented by a healthy dose of characterization, not just of Lincoln but of other key characters as well, most notably Thaddeus Stevens, played excellently by Tommy Lee Jones. Say what you will of Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as Lincoln—Jones’ performance is, in my opinion, just as impressive, and his character arc—a cruel choice between expediency and uncompromising adherence to one’s virtues– is perhaps even more emotionally involving than the president’s.
To be honest, this trailer is actually pretty bland.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Lincoln as a grandfatherly figure, a wise man with a lot of old anecdotes to tell—some of which give the film a strong dose of much-appreciated humor. Yet his Lincoln isn’t perfect—he seems estranged from his wife and elder son, a man who has buried his emotions so long that he is awkward and uncomfortable around those closest to him.
Driven by its strong performance,s and bolstered by a script that feels lively and humorous rather than stilted and archaic (as is too often the case in historical costume epics), Lincoln succeeds despite its slow start and questionable conclusion. The climax of the film, a scene in which representatives vote on the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banning slavery, is one of the most emotionally rousing moments in a recent movie. And while Lincoln stretches too far beyond that pivotal scene, wearing out its overlong running time, it’s forgivable.
The cinematography isn’t anything spectacular. Flat camera angles and diffuse, hazy lighting seems to be Lincoln’s style, and a poor style it is. But maybe Lincoln isn’t trying to be a director’s movie—it’s an actor’s movie, driven by its performances, and by the intrinsic pathos a movie about such an important (and still-relevant) historical figure holds. Its choice to frame the film around the passage of the thirteenth amendment is an effective one. Lincoln is able to combine the human element of the biopic with the suspense and intrigue of a politicla thriller, nad while the politicking may be a tad complex at times, hampering the film’s pacing, Lincoln is still a solid film that manages to tug at the heartstrings as well as engage the mind.