Sunday, 27 January 2013

Film Review: Lincoln (2012)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tommy Lee Jones

Lincoln represents a striking return to form for director Steven Spielberg and is his most accomplished dramatic film for a decade. Every fault he and his regular contributors made in their last film, War Horse, they put right here. Steven Spielberg shows in this film once again why he is The Greatest Living Director™ and is a unique talent.

Although the film’s title suggests a biopic which will tell the life story of the 16th President of the United States, the story centres on only four months (January to April 1865) and focuses on the political procedure to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Moreover, the film is as much about the supporting characters as it is about the President himself and as a dramatic interpretation of real events, Tony Kushner’s screenplay packs in as much details as is necessary to engage all intelligent audiences, regardless of their historical knowledge. With 145 speaking parts, the film is very ‘talky’ and requires the audience to listen and pay attention throughout its 150 minutes; but Kushner’s screenplay and Spielberg’s technique balances morality speeches and expository dialogue with constantly interesting framing and lens choices.

In fact, Spielberg directs Lincoln with (his words) a “quiet lens”, removing the film making techniques which can draw attention to themselves (which isn’t always a negative) to allow this historically important story to take centre stage. Spielberg may be the only director working today who could create tension from a voting ballot without losing touch of the tone he has set leading up to the moment. If it were not for Janusz Kaminski’s photography, this could be Spielberg storytelling from any decade.

The 12 year Spielberg spent on researching the man and the time is evident in every scene in the film and is one of his most visually compelling films; the pallet has so many layers, each frame is photographed exquisitely by long-time collaborator Janusz Kaminski and the trademark white light is at times a fascination to the eye, as if we’ve never seen a Spielberg/Kaminski-lit film before; you can almost feel the dust in the air or smell the stench of dead bodies in the hands of such film making masters. Add to this the third member of the Holy Trinity, composer John Williams, whose score is note-perfect; some may complain his score is filled with War Horse-like sentimentality, but that’s far from true. The score is noticeably beautiful.

No review of Lincoln can be complete without paying special attention to the acting. A narrative-heavy screenplay such as this demanded actors which could deliver the dialogue as if it were coming from the men and women themselves, and the ensemble cast in Lincoln is one of the most collectively outstanding in recent years. Not one actor, be it the famous faces or someone delivering a single line, puts a foot wrong and each line is delivered with true conviction of character, not actors playing a character. To put it into perspective, no one alive today has seen Abraham Lincoln walk and talk, but Daniel Day Lewis makes us believe he’d learnt from the man himself.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Lincoln is monumental film making of a monumental period of American history centred on a monumental man. It will be remembered as one of the most important films from one of America’s most important film makers.

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