As Oscar season approaches, filmmakers begin to unload work of the highest caliber upon audiences. Some fall from grace and slink away in the shame of hype, while others are applauded and enter the race for a coveted award indicating grand achievement. One of those works is the Steven Spielberg-directed “Lincoln,” a historical drama chronicling the end of the 16th president’s turbulent life as he attempts to abolish slavery and reunite a divided nation.
“Lincoln” had the potential to be sensational, and while we see glimpses of such, the majority of the film leaves much to be desired.
While one could expect that the film would be an examination of Abraham Lincoln’s life, it instead focuses on the ending of the Civil War and the attempt to pass the 13th Amendment. Lincoln and his story are used as a frame for these events. This is the film’s greatest flaw. The president, both as a man and a leader, should have remained at the heart of the film. The situation has to be a window into the character, rather than the other way around. He is a fascinating figure, and the movie sadly renders him as a backdrop to the politics of his presidency.
The icon is portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, right, and he does so with staggering passion. Simultaneously intense and humorous, strong and troubled, Lewis captures the many sides of a man burned so deeply in American history. His performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy, which makes the lack of exploration of his life all the more disappointing. Sally Field also stars as first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. A complicated and at times unstable character, Field plays her with elegance and vulnerability. Tommy Lee Jones is Thaddeus Stevens, an anti-slavery Republican leader with enough piercing wit to steal every scene he’s in.
In terms of cinematography, “Lincoln” is a success. Even the more dry scenes in the House of Representatives are shot beautifully, showcasing old architecture in a grand way. These images are strengthened by a stirring score from the masterful John Williams, who has undoubtedly created the most haunting film melodies of the year.
While “Lincoln” had much promise due to its rich subject matter and leadership by an incredibly talented filmmaker, it often feels like more of a disappointment than an achievement. It’s at least a half hour too long, and it just doesn’t seem to understand that imagery and implication can have more impact than the incessant dialogue it contains. It doesn’t live up to the piles of hype, partially because it’s essentially not even about the president. Rather, it’s a decent film about a nation in turmoil, and I believe Abe Lincoln deserves more than that.
Stephen Spoth is a junior at Williamsville North High School.