Lincoln is bolstered by strong performances especially from Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones and although I appreciate Spielberg limiting such an interesting character, and President, to two aspects of his time in the White House, for whatever reason the story lacked an emotional punch.
DreamWorks/Fox | PG13 – 150 min. – $45.99 | March 26, 2013
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Writer(s): Doris Kearns Goodwin (book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”); Tony Kushner (screenplay)
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill
Theatrical Release Date: November 16, 2012
Features: Featurettes, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 4
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 7.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 42.7 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
After tackling the journey of a teenage boy and his horse through WWII, making a CG movie about a boy detective and his dog, and bringing back an aging adventurer in Indiana Jones, producer/director Steven Spielberg returns with, along the same lines as Munich and, in some ways, Saving Private Ryan with a historical account with Lincoln. However, unlike those other two films, doesn’t quite have the heart and/or emotion and heavily relies on other elements to carry us to the finish line.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the United States 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, and begins in 1865, less than a year into his second term. The Civil War is still as bloody as ever but is slowly winding down as possible peace and surrender is on the horizon. But Lincoln’s primary focus, and juggling to get traction, is passage of the Thirteenth Amendment which outlawed slavery. Although he had all the support, begrudgingly or otherwise, of his own party (with some finagling with the conservative wing) and peeling off votes from the Democratic Party via what was tantamount to bribery giving positions of power.
Given how extensive Lincoln’s tenure was, not to mention his rise to Commander-in-Chief, so I did like Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s focus specifically on passage of the Amendment. They did an effective job showing how Lincoln, with the help of his Secretary of State William Seward (DAVID STRATHAIRN), juggled making all sides just happy enough to see the passage even if it meant stretching the truth beyond its limits. He not only had to deal with certain members of his own party, he also factions of the Republicans, including that of a private citizen named Preston Blair (HAL HOLBROOK) who holds sway on how his faction of the party votes.
But Spielberg doesn’t just keep the story on the Amendment aspects but delves into Lincoln’s personal life including the oft tumultuous relationship with wife Mary Todd Lincoln (SALLY FIELD) still grieving over the death of their son William Lincoln 3 years earlier. We get to see Lincoln dode over their youngest, Tad (GULLIVER MCGRATH), and fawn over their eldest, Robert (JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT) visiting the White House after deciding to quit law school and joining the Army, much to the displeasure of his mother and despite his father’s insistence not to, going so far to show his son the bloody side to the war. But he’s steadfast in his decision leading to one of the few emotional moments in this film (the other being with Mary Todd).
And that’s the bigger problem I had with Lincoln: the emotional element seems to be at arm’s length throughout the lengthy 140-minute (sans credits) running time. I liked you got a closer portrait of the man and focused heavily on one area of his presidency and yet, despite getting a better internal view of the man whom in the past was done almost as a caricature, I wasn’t as emotional invested in the man versus his political accomplishments. Whose fault is it? Ultimately it does come down to Spielberg but the screenplay, by Tony Kushner (Munich), plays out like a documentary.
Now, on the positive side of things, the performances are the saving grace: Daniel Day-Lewis once again gets lost inside a character and even with some well done make-up, done enough to look like Lincoln without inhibiting his performance. It’s a master piece of work from the veteran who continues to astound audiences each time and this perhaps was his best yet.
Aside from DDL, Sally Field is one of the more impactful players and has a few quality scenes; Tommy Lee Jones continues to impress, this time in a supporting role which is done with nice depth in spite of relative minimal screen-time. The rest of the cast is also remarkable as Spielberg gathers some strong names, in much thankless roles, including David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon Levitt, an unrecognizable James Spader (at least I didn’t know), John Hawkes, Jared Harris (whom I like to see helm his own movie about Ulysses S. Grant) and Lee Pace playing opposite Tommy Lee Jones as Fernando Wood.
The production and costume designs are also extraordinary, the former of which did take home the Academy Award along with Daniel Day-Lewis (Anna Karenina took it home for costume design). The job these two departments did is amazing and those alone are worth watching this film a second time just to take it all in.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln might not have had the emotional bite compared with Schindler’s List (for obvious reasons) and even Munich, but the performances help any deficiencies in the screenplay which can get bogged down in the politics and legislative procedure (though these do speak to the President’s intelligence in passing the amendment). This may not be Spielberg’s best film even of the 21st century, but it’s an impressive and inspiring one. Daniel Day-Lewis again gives a, to use a critical cliché, tour-de-force performance and the supporting players only live up to his standards.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.0/5
This release comes with a glossy slip cover. As it’s become accustomed now from Touchstone (Buena Vista), this 4-disc set comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with two discs stacked on one another on each side. This isn’t so much of a hassle to get the bottom disc but trying to get a grip on the top one and more often, I had to grab both discs just to get the one. Anyway, inside is a standard DVD Copy with a single featurette and a Digital Copy that is compatible with iTunes or WMV.
The Journey to Lincoln (9:24; HD) – This short featurette has the crew, including Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, on how the project came about and what drew Spielberg to this President and the legacy he left.
A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia (4:00; HD) provides behind-the-scenes footage of filming in Virginia and includes more interviews with the crew.
In the Company of Character (10:23; HD) looks at the casting of the movie focuses, of course, primarily on Lincoln himself and Daniel Day-Lewis and how he “absorbed” the character from day 1. The featurette also covers Sally Field and her transformation into Mary and others like Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn and Joseph Gordon Levitt. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Crafting the Past (10:43; HD) – This featurette focuses on the production and costume designs and the make-up and features comments from each department. It’s actually fairly fascinating to see the amount of detail that went into each. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Living with Lincoln (27:04; HD) takes a larger spotlight on making the movie with behind-the-scenes footage plus interviews with a variety of people with Spielberg back providing more background info on his approach (and also gets the perspectives from the actors and other crew members) ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
In Lincoln’s Footsteps (16:35; HD) – The last featurette primarily looks at the post-production aspects like the editing, sound designing/recording and John Williams’ score. The latter part then covers the final scenes for the film and doing the goodbyes. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
VIDEO – 4.75/5
Lincoln arrives via Buena Vista Home Entertainment looking like the typical Spielberg whimsical visual palette seen in his other historical-centric films. Here the detail levels are of course fantastic and the colors, which have a more golden hue at times, are well balanced. The costumes and production especially shines and shows the level of research done to get things just right. I don’t think it comes off the screen as well compared with other new releases, but it still looks pretty damn good.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The movie is accompanied with a nice-sounding 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, although given 99% of the movie is spoken word, or yelling at times, it’s not exactly a dynamic track. However, the dialogue levels do sound rich and reverberant coming through the center channel and the surround speakers get most of its use from ambient noises (horse drawn carriages and such) or the brief occasion of war explosions.
OVERALL – 4.25/5
Overall, Lincoln is bolstered by strong performances especially from Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones and although I appreciate Spielberg limiting such an interesting character, and President, to two aspects of his time in the White House (abolishing slavery and ending the Civil War), for whatever reason the story lacked an emotional punch. However, in spite of that, this is still a very well made historical drama and well worth checking out as you do get a better glimpse of the man beyond the legend he has become today. The Blu-ray offers up great video/audio transfers and the features, albeit relatively limited, do give some interesting background on how the movie came to be.