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Lincoln Review

Posted by Kragghle , in Reviews, Movies Dec 24 2012 · 181 views

history America Civil War

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One does not simply walk in the shoes of Lincoln.  He is not a role like Luke Skywalker, who was an original creation that one could cast anyone before because we had no idea what a Luke Skywalker was.  No, this is the man whose face we literally see every day on the faces of five doller bills and pennies.  Many actors have come and gone playing him, but the part of Lincoln has, as far as I can recall, always been a supporting character in civil war movies, someone whose presence was limited because of the impossibility of sustaining the illusion that he was real.
 
That is why Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor's actor.  That's an amazing stovepipe hat to fill, and goodness, in spite of the task previously pinned by me to be impossible, he does it.  Yes, I am vaguely aware of how he doesn't look exactly like Lincoln, since after all the real man's face is on money, but he was Lincoln.  This is not something where an actor just shows up to an audition and does his thing and allows his presence to do the work for him.  No, this took genuine work.  Many actors have come to the role, such as Gregory Peck in The Blue and the Grey, and have added presence to the role.  They have given Lincoln a sense of drama, an air of nobility.  Daniel Day-Lewis manages to go beyond that, however, beyond the marble carving other actors and directors have turned him into and delivers a soulful performance, and while watching this movie there was no doubt in my mind that this was Lincoln.  This isn't just a good performance; this is one of the great performances for the ages.
 
When you combing the divine acting skills of Daniel Day-Lewis and the masterful storytelling finesse of Stephen Spielberg, this is a soulful, powerful Lincoln that is destined to become a legend of cinematic history, and is all but guaranteed the Oscar for Best Actor unless academy voters decide to be prejudiced against an actor who has already won the award.  However, as otherwise stated, this is an actor's actor.  The other possible contender for the prize is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, but that's a stage role where people are used to the usual carousel of faces with different interpretations of the character.  Jean Valjean is my favorite fictional character, but Abraham Lincoln was a real person whose personality has becomed carved into the stone tablets of American history, and it's far harder to deliver a convincing, definitive performance that brings him back to life.  That is by far one of the greatest challenges an actor can be dealt, one that not even most professional actors can pull off, and as such it only makes sense in my mind that Daniel Day-Lewis was the best actor this year by every sense of the term.
 
Sally Field, meanwhile, was also equally as convincing as Mary Todd Lincoln.  I was vaguely aware that there was an actress behind the role, but that was only when my mind tried to disect the movie and something about her eyes seemed familiar, but Sally Field was perfect for the role and I was only aware it was her after I stayed behind to see her name in the credits.  She was amazing, and I can't recall any other movie where Mrs. Lincoln played such a prominent role.
 
The guy who played Secretary of State Seward, meanwhile, was also perfect for this prominent role and was 100% convincing.  I might add that every single one of these actors mentioned thus far were also visually perfect for their roles, and I don't know how Spielberg managed to come across such convenient combinations.
 
Slightly less convincing was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who no metter what brings that Tommy Lee presence to his roles.  However, while his performance isn't ultra-convincing, he brings charm and charisma to the role, and the moment he first enters on screen there's no doubt just who this person is and where he fits in with everything.  Along with Lincoln, he's the other rominent character who must be challenged in order to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  One may or may not like his performance, and I don't think it depends on whether or not you're a Tommy Lee fan, but it's something more complicated than that.
 
The least convincing actor is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln's oldest son.  I guess he loks the role, but thanks to a plethora of big movies starring him that came out this year, he really breaks the illusion created by this movie, which was otherwise a perfect window into the past.  Sorry, Joseph.  Fortunately, he's not too prominent in this film.
 
Based off of acting performances alone, and the amazing souls brought to the roles, I encourage people to see this in theatres before it's too late.  If you're still reading this, stop, make a grab for your wallet, and go see this movie.  Meanwhile, I always, always encourage Americans to view movies about significant events in American history, so even if this wasn't an absolute recommendation for the big screen due to acting, I would still tell people to watch is sooner or later due to the content.
 
With regards to the plot, it's important to establish that this is not a war film.  I suspected that it would be, but I was wrong, and there is only one scene with any fighting in it whatsoever.  That one clip in the trailer where you see bombardment by canon fire for one second is actually about two seconds of footage thrown into the film.  So in other words, don't expect a war movie, but a courtroom drama of sorts, as this film could very well have been given the alternative title of The Thirteenth Amendment, which it completely focuses on.  The politics and lobbying that all went behind nabbing all of the necessary votes made for a very interesting drama.  They don't simplify it, either, as this is an adapted screenplay of Team of Rivals, which is a thoroughly researched book on the complications of the politics within the Lincoln administration.  That Spielberg didn't hold back is noble, and it was a very pleasant surprise that almost every vote for the Thirteenth Amendment was filmed, which was incredibly dramatic and certainly the climax of the film.  Then it ended with Lincoln getting shot and the familiar scene of his time of death being recorded with the words "Now he belongs to the age" said over his body.  It's where it should have ended, but the big moment that this film that stands out is definitely the vote and the drama that built up to it.
 
This is my favorite movie thus far this year, to put things into perspective.  That means I liked this more than any of the superhero movies, Brave, Prometheus, and The Hobbit.  This is, of course, isn't to say that it's going to be anybody's favorite, but it says something of my own interests.  I have gone through the frustration of not having it shown in my area for over a month, but it finally came to my local theatre and a good friend of mine came back from the Coast Guard Academy on vacation and told me about it when we got back together, heavily recommending it to me because he knew it was exactly my kind of film.
 

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Booker DeWitt
Dec 24 2012 06:39 PM

Your judgement on whether someone's a good actor or not seems to be based on whether you recognise them or not. You criticise JGL seemingly just because he's been in other stuff recently, and rank highly Sally Field because you don't recognise her that easily...

 

Jean Valjean is my favorite fictional character, but Abraham Lincoln was a real person whose personality has becomed carved into the stone tablets of American history, and it's far harder to deliver a convincing, definitive performance that brings him back to life.  That is by far one of the greatest challenges an actor can be dealt, one that not even most professional actors can pull off, and as such it only makes sense in my mind that Daniel Day-Lewis was the best actor this year by every sense of the term.

But wouldn't you say it's a lot easier to do an impression of a real-life person and build upon what you know of them than to play a completely fictional character and basically have to build them from the ground up? It takes more work to make a fictional character memorable than it does to do an impression of a real life person.

 

But yeah. I don't think this is out here yet, might see it when it is. Though I find American history really dull and tedious, so idunnolol.

 

- Tilius

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Though I find American history really dull and tedious, so idunnolol.


The Civil War is the most interesting period of American history IMO.
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:kaukau: At risk of not doing my views on these matters justice, I'm going to share my outlook on the subject of acting as well as I can with the given amount of time that I have on hand to clear up any misconceptions that might (and apparently have) come from a superficial reading of this review.

 

As a writer and aspiring author, as well as regular film critic with plenty of time and focus to digest material, and as an actor who has appeared in multiple plays, the matter of characters is of great interest to me.  A character is an archetype invented within the mind of the writer, a projection of an understanding of humanity.  I spend much time meditating on my characters, trying to make them as close to people as they can be, but no matter what, they are characters.  They come from my mind.  They are something I build.  Translate that into acting, and I say that most actors bring something natural to a role by finding themself within a part.  Thus, roles such as Iron Man come naturally to a person such as Robert Downey, Jr., who has a strong sense of the role within him and can bring that truth to light.  Directors cast people in fictional roles when they see a trace of that character within the actor.

 

Lincoln is different, for American viewers especially.  He isn't a character. He isn't an archetype within the minds of some author or the audience.  Yes, he exists within our minds, but in a much more real sense he exists as an actual person in time itself.  This is what Spielberg wished to do justice to.  An actor cannot bring the truth of himself into the role and discover his own version of it.  The actor must abolish himself and find the truth of the part where it exists outside of himself.

 

Consider also that acting is not merely the art of immitation.  One can look similar to and act similar to me (queue Matt Smith), but merely copying my mannerisms will not convince people that this person is me.  It won't create the illusion of reality.  Day-Lewis manages to do something more than just copy Lincoln's mannerisms and brings a very convincing soul to the part, something that simply doesn't come natural to any actor, because the truth isn't inherent within himself.  He can't merely take this and make it his own, nor can he merely immitate Lincoln, because nobody would be sold by the latter.

 

Take, for instance, is a CGI face had been put onto Day-Lewis, since the technology exists.  That would not have worked: people would have been aware of the CGI face, and no matter how well it was done, the tedious immitation would not have flown with the public.  It would have been a perfect replica, but it would not have succeeded in bringing the role to life.  So a very good actor must be chosen, someone who can give a definitive performance.

 

The absolute definitive performance for Lincoln's life was, of course, Lincoln himself.  This is the absolute which is to be compared to.  Let us contrast that to fictional characters such as James Bond and Spock.  Some would say that Sean Connery is the definitive James Bond, but once other actors took on the part, it wasn't that much of a blow. Within those ficticious presentations, it was possible for the audience to set up willing suspension of disbelief and assume that James Bond was supposed to look and act the way he was depicted by those actors and that he always had been that way, within the context of the movies those actors were in.  He was, after all, a fictional character, someone to be interpreted, and he existed in his own way within each of the actors who portrayed him.

 

Then there's Spock.  He had for the longest time been played by Leonard Nemoy, who had the perfect presence for the role that fit Gene Rodenberry's vision.  Recently, Zachary Quinto replaced him.  One could say that Zachary's job was simple: all he had to do was immitate Leonard's performance.  Yet immitation would never have flown and never would have been real.  Spock manifested himself through Quinto in a different, special way.  The spectre of Spock now turns out to be something that can be channeled by new actors who can discover him within themselves if they look in the right places, and like James Bond we can simply assume that this Spock has always been this way and should be this way.  Leonard Nemoy's performance doesn't necessarily have to be the definitive performance, since someone such as Quinto's performance can be just as real and just as soulful.

 

Then we come back to Lincoln, who's a person, not a fictional character.  He is the definitive version of himself.  An actor cannot merely immitate him, nor can they come up with their interpretation of how they are Lincoln, because they are not Lincoln.  It seems like a no-win scenario.  That's why someone with miraculous acting talent, such as Day-Lewis, is needed in order to walk ni the shoes of Lincoln and capture the essence of this very real man and bring his ghost back onto the screen in a hauntingly real way.

 

Let there be no doubt about it, though.  Acting is a complicated and multi-faceted career.  People make there lives out of it, and thus there is much to be said of it.  For this type of movie, which was about creating the perfect illusion, Day-Lewis's type of performance defined the tone, from which Tommy Lee and Joseph deviated.  In other places, however, there are roles that are about an actor's presence.  I love Anne Hathaway as an actress, even though I'm conspicuously aware of her persona as an actress onscreen.  Still, I love that presence, so long as it's applied in the right place.  She would have not been right in a movie like Lincoln, where acters such as Day-Lewis and Field made it their job to completely sell you the idea that they are well-known historic figures.  At this point I switch to Aristotlean thought and point to the evidence in that I have never until now seen a performance that has captured Lincoln, and in general depictions of famous individuals that are 100% convincing are incredibly rare.  Anthony Hopkins, for all his acting talent and respectable roles, cannot immerse me into convincing me that he is Richard Nixon, although he can add a certain dynamic to the role.  Bruno Ganz, on the other hand, is one of those rare perfect recreations of a famous leader, Adolf Hitler, and in fact if you're familiar with that performance I'd compare Day-Lewis's to it, because the recreate the reality in a similar way.  Meanwhile, Ganz didn't simply walk into the Mordor of his role as Adolf Hitler, and as an actor he didn't simply go on and do his thing.  It wasn't something he could act natural for and it required intensive method acting in order to capture the reality, so that for the viewer as well as the people on set, he became more than just "hey, that's like Hitler" and more like "Woah, that's Hitler."

 

I praise Gordon-Levitt as an actor, however.  I loved him in Looper, where I was certainly aware of his personal presence, but also aware of how well he fit the role.  The same went for Bruce Willis.  It was a Bruce Willis movie, and essentially an exploration of what sort of role these two actors could do, and given the different directing style and overal type of movie that it turned out to be, he was the right actor for the part, and he could have me immersed in the role in the way that was intended.  Lincoln's son, however, for the type of film that Lincoln was, is different, and thus I judged it more by the standards that Tilius expressed.  As the review suggests, Tommy Lee's performance was also cause for skepticism, but at least he used his presence to bring something to the role (for which I will bring comparisons to Hopkins playing Nixon), a compliment I cannot give Gordon-Levitt with the same sincerity.  Fans of his might be pleased to see him in a noble, mainstream role, although given the style set forth in the Lincoln parents, it would have made more sense to cast someone else who could more seemlessly blend into the role, although not even the best of directors (and Spielberg is arguably the best) van score every time with every casting decision.  What Gordon-Levitt did right, though, was to act well and be natural, so his acting was at least good and respectable.  This does not lower my opinion of him in any way.  It was, however, not great and won't be talked about in the same way that Day-Lewis's will, in which I repeat that it was a performance for the ages.

 

Meanwhile, Tilius, if I may address you specifically, I do not recommend it with the same imperative sense that I do for American viewers.  For you I would stress the importance of watching movies covering subjects that you might cover briefly in your British history classes.  In general, I think it's culturally important for people to bond with the identities created by the stories that unfolded within their nations through the medium of movies, especially since I see movies as a way of bringing people together.

 

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Username: Emperor Kraggh
Real name: N/A
Age: 20
Gender: Male
Heritage: Half Dutch, 25% Hungarian, 12.5% Swedish, 6.25% German and Irish
Physical description: Looks like the eleventh Doctor
Favorite food: Chicken, turkey, and beef.
Least favorite food: Vegetables of any kind
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Favorite movie: Schindler's List
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Favorite board game: Risk
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Lucky Number: 53
Past-times: Writing, reading, politics, drawing
Political party: Republican
Religion: Christian
Language: Not English, but American.

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