The Term “Oscar Worthy” and a Review of Spielberg’s Lincoln

18 Nov

Official poster for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln

The telling of a true story is always a gamble with an audience, particularly if that true story is about one of our nation’s most beloved Presidents. Most biographies or interpretations or retellings of a lesser-known subject lead their films with, “Based on a true story.” When a true story is being told and on that rare occasion it doesn’t have to include said lead, then you know the stakes of your gamble are higher than ever.

Steven Spielberg’s 28th picture bares no such lead-in to his film, opting instead for a bold word accompanied by a resounding bass note: Lincoln.

This audacious introduction temporarily banishes my doubts that this will be yet another rehash of the same preachy fanfare about one of our few do-no-wrong Presidents. Lincoln’s eternal infallibility is the reason we can get away with making another movie about our 16th President. Among today’s culture of Internet trolls hiding under every Facebook status waiting to textually attack you and your beliefs, it is nice to remember that we all (at least the very large majority) can agree that abolishing slavery was a good thing and that assassinating Lincoln was bad.

The timing of Lincoln’s release date was very strategically placed. Spielberg wanted it to premiere after the 2012 Presidential election to avoid any party bias, but to also use Abraham’s message about unity in his final speech to act as a healing device for a country so politically divided. Appearing as Mr. Nice Guy on the surface, Spielberg had an ulterior motive for the film’s date placement. Lincoln intends to ride the country’s current super-charged political feelings straight to an intended sweep of the Oscar ceremony.

Everyone had a voice in the most recent election, thanks to the oversaturation of mass media in people’s lives. This made people feel like they mattered more, thus making them believe that just broadcasting their opinions automatically made them more politically savvy. Spielberg gave the politically passionate one last event for them to debate over: their interpretations of Lincoln and how it directly effects or mirrors today’s politics. This will keep people talking for the next couple of weeks as the film’s distribution continues to expand and overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth spreads.

Talk powers Oscar races more so than it should, as quality seems to be less relevant every year. Certain movies are consistently deemed “Oscar worthy” rather than an actual adjective that would more suitably describe them. Steven Spielberg and the actor behind Lincoln’s Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis, are two of the most commonly bestowed “Oscar worthy” people in the business today.

At this point, it would seem sacrilegious to deem Lincoln anything other than a masterpiece since it has all of the right ingredients for its inevitable Oscar awards: the God-like Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, Time’s own proclaimed “Greatest Living Actor” Daniel Day-Lewis portraying everyone’s favorite President, the musically endowed John Williams scoring the film, a Pulitzer Prize winning Tony Kushner adapting the biographical novel, an all-star cast as long as my arm lending their countless talents, and the abolition of slavery as the perfect subject matter.

I acknowledge that these parts of the film are good, some better than others. However, the validity of these “Oscar worthy” assertions turned out to be quite misleading.

Spielberg’s direction wasn’t quite as heavy-handed or dominant as it normally is in his films. He has some very creative cuts, but largely leaves his distinctive style at home. However, I attribute this to his dealing with such high caliber actors, particularly in the smaller roles.

I found the antics of James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson’s trio to be most entertaining and the work done by Tommy Lee Jones extraordinarily impressive. Jones managed to capture my attention with his gruff exterior, provide quite a few laughs in a long and drawn-out film, and provide the emotional punch necessary in every Spielberg film. His resolution also provided the most surprise you can get out of an ending that we already can recite by heart. If anybody deserves an Oscar from this film, it is Jones.

Naturally, Day-Lewis immersed himself and came to embody the most authentic representation of Abraham Lincoln ever seen on screen (or what we are told by other film critics who have apparently met the long-deceased President) in all ways physically, politically and emotionally.

Despite the realism Day-Lewis brings with his portrayal as the nation’s political leader, Lincoln story as a father and husband takes up a third of the film. These side notes slow the pacing down and represent a clear misuse of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s many talents as Lincoln’s son. The only good thing to come from Lincoln’s home life is watching Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln go toe-to-toe against this renowned actor and shine a light on the fact that our President wasn’t the best husband, definitely smudging his appearance of infallibility.

While the many factors that play into Lincoln are good, and may prove to be “Oscar nomination worthy,” the film doesn’t play evenly enough for me to support this biopic in the Best Picture race.

Rating: 6/10 (Pretty Good)

Title: Lincoln
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Straithairn, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris
Release Date: November 16th, 2012 (wide)
Run Time: 149 mins.
Rated: PG-13

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