Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln starring the amazing Daniel Day Lewis in the title role worries me; it seems the director of fantastic films such as Jaws and Schindler’s List has lost his way as a filmmaker. If true, that would be a sad day for all lovers of cinema, because Spielberg is one of the best directors in film history.
It is easier for me to tell you what’s right with Lincoln rather than what is wrong. The most essential piece of the puzzle is Lewis as Lincoln, a towering figure played by an actor of equal stature. Lewis is impressive in the role, and as he stares at the camera for long moments (sometimes way too long ones at that), you get a feeling that you are looking at the face of the 16th president.
Unfortunately, that is not enough to carry the film. Nor are the other great actors who are lending Lewis support – Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Joseph-Gordon Levitt (Robert Lincoln), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair), and David Strathairn (William Seward) add considerable thespian weight, but the film still sinks to the bottom. The question I asked myself is “Why?”
The first scene of the film provides the answers. With the backdrop of war being so crucial to the story, we get our only battle sequence. Spielberg shows he doesn’t forget what none of us can from Saving Private Ryan, but then he completely abandons this and the film takes a turn toward character study – and that is how it progresses for the rest of the way.
Of course, the most important character here is Lincoln, and we get plenty of him. We see him as master politician, loving husband and father, admirable leader, and good friend. All of this is wonderful in a book, but in a film we need something more (much, much more).