What makes people consider a film to be an epic? Who decided one day that The Godfather was an epic? Did a reviewer label the film an epic and his reviewer friends decided to copy him? Very rarely do films come out and scream “epic” like the biopic Lincoln did. From the day that this picture was released to the time I finally saw the film, everything about this film seemed so epic and larger than life. Maybe it was the amount of preparation the cast went through or the fact that the crew was required to dress in period costume, but this film seemed destined to be different than anything I had seen in films since The Artist. My biggest question before seeing it however was whether or not it would live up to the title of “epic.”
Lincoln follows the President during the last five months of his life, a time he was seemingly defeated by the events of the past four years. Having just been re-elected to a second term, we see Lincoln attempting to keep his country together by trying to mend the part that attempted to break away. The story depicts Lincoln’s fight to pass the 13th amendment, which would outlaw slavery in the United States. You are introduced to Lincoln as a man who seems exhausted from the tasks he has had to deal with, but is dedicated to seeing them all the way through. Working with some allies in the House of Representatives and his cabinet, while working against some more formidable enemies, will Lincoln see the bill pass, the war end, and the country reunite?
First let me start off with the good: there were some PHENOMENAL performances in this film. If Daniel Day-Lewis does not win an Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln, the Academy Awards are a sham and I will not watch them for the next five years. Okay, that is a lie, but still he embodied everything I imagined Lincoln to be. Unfortunately there are no sound bites of Lincoln, but I imagined Lincoln sounding like Day-Lewis made him sound. Since the film takes place during the last five months of his life, which coincided with the end of the Civil War, you can only imagine how exhausted Lincoln was. Day-Lewis was able to get Lincoln’s mannerisms down pat, and you can even hear the tremble in his voice. It was mind-boggling how good he was, and I would love to pick his brain to see what sort of work went into preparing for the role.
Also, there were a very solid group of performances with Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Both had limited screen time, as the majority of the film was rightfully focused on Lincoln, but both really lit up during their allotted screen time. This was the first time I got to see the rumored crazy side of Mary Todd, and Field was able to capture that perfectly. It easily could have been overdramatic and frankly campy, but she balanced it out perfectly. Jones as Stevens, an abolitionist senator fighting for the passage of the 13th amendment, was another understated performance, but nonetheless great in its own right. He was not as flashy as Field or Day-Lewis, but really strong nonetheless. I predict Oscar nominations for Field and Jones, but not quite sure about their victories yet.
Fun Fact: Steven Spielberg called Day-Lewis Mr. President and Sally Field Molly or Mrs. Lincoln throughout the entire three and a half month shooting of the film to keep them in character. This practice definitely paid off because both performances were fantastic.
Now to the downside of the film. From the time the film started, it suffered from serious pacing issues. I thought the story was really interesting and an important one to tell, but there were certain scenes which I felt were never going to end. It seemed that the story (and the director) focused on trivial points rather than pushing the story forward. During some scenes, I couldn’t wait for the story to move forward because I was losing interest due to the stretching out of unnecessary points. Also the sound seemed very off in the film; I almost wished there were sub-titles because during some of the scenes, I was unable to hear some of the dialogue which was whispered or spoken in a lower tone. Although there were some beautifully wistful parts to the film and some equally beautifully filmed scenes (my particular favorite was their son at the theater), something prevented me from fully connecting to this film. I truly struggled to get past the pacing problems.
With everything being said, I think Lincoln has the components to be an epic, especially considering its outstanding director, incredible performances, and gripping story. Even with those strengths, however, there was something missing which made this epic film fall semi-flat in my opinion. I think all of the actors involved in this film should be given a standing ovation because they were brilliant, and their performances should be used to teach future generations of actors what a good performance is. Unfortunately, you can’t depend on strong performance to hold a film together. Eventually a story must be told and if the backing isn’t there, the film can never fully take off.
3 out of 5 Stars