Is Oscar season here already? With it comes my renewed effort to watch something a bit more high-brow. And it doesn’t come a lot higher brow (without being subtitled and black & white) than Spielberg’s latest biopic of one of America’s most celebrated presidents. Who knew there was a market for this so soon after “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, a film that still boggles my mind simply by existing.
Daniel Day Lewis dons the iconic top hat and chin beard of Honest Abe, with Sally Field reprising her role of Aunt May from Spiderman by looking intensely troubled by everything and everyone around her (when she’s not in scenery-chewing levels of craziness). Tommy Lee Jones is the main supporting actor, playing a particularly wrinkled ball-sack. The rest of the cast are padded out with semi-anonymous politicians, the most insufferable child ever, and randomly Jonathan Taylor Thomas off Batman getting huffy in his few scenes.
OK that’s a negative note to start with, really they all played the roles that were required for a historical piece like this. It also was a difficult task to build a whole film around a few weeks of trying to pass legislation through Congress. I can only assume the homework was done, and so it was an engaging and absorbing world – something I knew practically nothing of; they don’t teach a lot of US history in UK schools, as you can imagine.
Astonishingly I didn’t feel the 2 1/2 hours dragged particularly, especially since we all know what the outcome was before the film, concerned as it was with the abolition of slavery. It hinged quite a lot on whether you liked the speeches. The political grandstanding was depressingly familiar, but the majority of the speeches were from Lincoln. He popped up in unusual places, springing anecdotes on rapt underlings, and occasionally exasperated cabinet members. I did like how it was acknowledged that he might be a real pain to work with when he keeps monologuing.
The main problem I felt was the epilogue where *spoiler alert* he gets assassinated. It just felt like a really sour note to end on, and didn’t really add anything. It’s not as though the film was a life story, just a segment. That shot of him walking away (like Willy Wonka) should’ve been the last scene. Either that or explain (or just say ANYTHING) and the motives for the shooting. That I think was a really strange choice for the ending.
Really you know what you’re getting yourself in for with this film, so if you have any desire to see it – other than some OCD compulsion to see all the Oscar nominees – you’ll probably enjoy it, or at least be content you haven’t totally wasted your time. If you’re only feeling obliged to go, I can’t imagine it will win you over.