BY GLENN PALMEDO-SMITH
Amidst the din and hoopla over Steven Spielberg’s latest epic, Lincoln, how could any film live up to such high expectations? After all, anyone who’s grown with Disney’s (three-motion) animated figure housed on Main Street, this, if anything, portrays our image of Lincoln — relegated to repeating the Gettysburg’s address every hour. But Spielberg and actor Daniel Day Lewis, (who renders Lincoln), have created a new Lincoln. Gone is the Walter Brennan-ish Southern twang, replaced by higher-pitched generic intonation; conveying self-doubt in sacrifices necessary to retain the union, end the war and pass a lasting 13th Amendment to abolish slavery; giving eternal importance to 700,000 dead soldiers – thus framing the heart of this film.
There are absolutely no action scenes in this movie, none. Unfortunately, much of the dialog reads like a BBC English period drama of late night PBS. I’d liken the screenplay by Tony Kushner to that of new-world pseudo-poetic Shakespeare; not nearly the classic, but way more sophisticated than Americans know from homebred productions. Will the public react favorably? We’ll see, but this film will definitely fail today’s youthful masses. Much of the staging and placement of actors seems applied, awkward and high school play-like, especially when the Lincoln family greets members of Congress to push passage of the 13th Amendment cause. The actors appear stiff with the director’s seeming demand of awkwardness. This scene could have remained on the editing floor, but no-doubt survived in allowing actress Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln to be the only smart person in the room amid all the gloating and buffoonery of congressional males. Within these few “Hallmark Presents” moments, Fields manages to fly as far away from her Flying Nun days, for, at times, the viewer truly believes she’s indeed Mary Todd Lincoln; a munchkin in hooped dresses, seemingly 4 feet to Lincoln’s towering frame. More than not, the sets, costumes, furniture and smell of scenes, all scream staged; yet Spielberg is best when he allows his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminsk, to style frames with selected light and explore within these iconic environs — which therein resides the ride.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance has ‘Oscar’ written all over it — it won’t even be a contest this Oscar season. It’s perhaps the most haunting performance since De Niro’s 1980 Jake La Motta. Memorable performances by David Strathairn, (Good Night, Good Luck), as William Seward (Lincoln’s Secretary of State), and James Spader (Boston Legal), as W.N. Bilbo, also grace the screen with wonder, while Tommy Lee Jones, portraying US Con. Thaddeus Stevens, hams it up to nose-bleeder seats, stealing every scene he’s in. Jones’ speech ends the second act when he argues that, “Maybe not all men are created equal, but they must be treated equal under the law.”
In the close of the third and final act, the resolution of the film is revealed when Lee removes his mask and we learn of his own “companion” preference, (must see movie for answer). As the war ends, the 13th Amendment passes and Lincoln fully accomplishes what he feels he’s been sent by the heavens to do, his final words are roughly, “Although I prefer to stay, I suspect it’s time for me to move on.” The film then quickly ends when son Tad learns of Lincoln’s shooting that same night. This is a film worth seeing and bring the kids if you’re able to pry the boys from their X-Box controllers stuck via grubby Cheeto-stained fingers. The film is two-and-a-half hours long, an eternity when there are a thousand Russian-like enemy to slaughter on the computer screen back home, all in less than a mere hour.
Glenn Palmedo-Smith is a multiple Emmy Award-winning film director, producer and writer. He has also received many national “Best of Fests” awards. He is the author of Discovering Ellis Ruley, Crown Publishing. If you’d like to share comments with the writer, email him at email@example.com