Spielberg’s Lincoln lacks power
By Andrea Kim (October 2012)
A film based on historical events that lacks accuracy might still attract audiences on entertainment value alone. Unfortunately, director Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has neither.
Multiple award-winning director Steven Spielberg’s new movie Lincoln is a film adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which follows the final four months Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, spent in office.
The film focuses mainly on the passing of Lincoln’s proposed 13th Amendment, which meant to free the slaves. The movie explores the highs and lows of that process.
I had high expectations, as this was the famous director Steven Spielberg’s film, and because it was a movie about one of America’s favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
However, within the first 30 minutes of the movie, my expectations crumbled.
Although the film stars award-winning actors, such as Tommy Lee Jones as Lincoln’s ally, Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican member of the House of the Representatives, and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s wife, and many famous faces, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln, Lincoln’s son, Spielberg’s Lincoln came off as 150 minutes of low-key action and a flat characterization of Lincoln.
It was evident that Spielberg tried to show different sides of Lincoln as a president, father, husband, and man. However, the sentimental and personal effect Spielberg sought to cast on the viewer failed as these portrayals lacked impact.
In the scenes between Lincoln and his son, Robert, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Spielberg clearly tried to convey that Lincoln loved his son like any father and did not want to lose him to the Civil War. Sadly, these scenes were rather short and forgettable. By the time I left the theatre, I had forgotten Robert Lincoln even appeared in the film.
As Spielberg later revealed, a huge amount of research went into analyzing Lincoln so that the film could portray him with the greatest possible historical accuracy. Days of research went into studying his voice alone.
However, lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis’s supposedly accurate depiction of Lincoln’s voice hindered me from focusing on the film.
For all 150 minutes of the film, Lincoln’s voice did not once change its tone or its pace. The charismatic Lincoln I had expected to see was nowhere to be found. It surprised me to see many viewers in the audience leaving the theatre during the movie.
Though the film may have captured Lincoln’s voice, it failed the true test of historical accuracy in the place it really counted: Lincoln’s motive in proposing the 13th Amendment. In the film, Spielberg depicted Lincoln as the hero who fought for the 13th Amendment, which emancipated slaves, with the aim of securing freedom and equality for all, rather than his goal: uniting a deeply divided nation during the Civil War.
This has always been a common misconception about Lincoln, and I do believe that many people like Lincoln because they mistakenly perceive him as hero who who fought for all people’s freedom and equality. I think that people would rather accept this misconception than remember him as someone who proposed and fought for the 13th Amendment solely to unite the Union and end the prolonged Civil War. Perhaps, despite his attention to details like Lincoln’s voice, Spielberg simply wanted his film to be a crowd pleaser rather than an accurate depiction of the president as he truly was not as he has been romanticized in American thought.
Moreover, immediately after the passing of the 13th Amendment in the film, within ten minutes, Lincoln was assassinated, and the film ended. The movie failed to show the aftermath of the passing of the 13th Amendment, and so the process on which it focused was without reward. Also, the movie lacked a powerful ending; it, too, was dull.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that there were some good parts to the movie.
The voting scenes at the House of Representatives were comical, and Tommy Lee Jones’ interpretation of Thaddeus Stevens earned the audience’s laughter.
Especially in the quarrel scene between Stevens and Fernando Wood, a Democrat representative played by Lee Pace, Stevens’ witty insults and deadpan delivery were hysterical. His character was memorable and charismatic, and Jones’ acting was mind-blowing.
In fact, the film’s true hero was Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens. His strong personality and emotional delivery had tremendous impact, and his his powerful speeches in the voting scenes left a greater impression than Lincoln did throughout the whole entire film.
Some critics say Lincoln has a great shot of being nominated and even winning awards at the Oscars. However, I doubt that this $50 million budget movie has what it takes. In general, the film was flat without intensity, climactic moments or a great many memorable scenes at all.
I recommend this movie to American history fanatics who enjoy watching long PBS-type documentaries, though I am concerned that even those fans may be disappointed by the film’s historical inaccuracy. However, for those who cannot endure slow-paced movies that lack the “BOOM” moment, this movie might be simply,dull.
Andrea Kim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.