This film shouldn’t even be called “Lincoln;” it should be entitled “The 13th Amendment versus Reconstruction” because this is the main conflict of Steven Spielberg’s latest feature film.
The conflict is never resolved, however, for “Lincoln” as a narrative tries to cover so much ground at the same time that—even at two-and-a-half hours—the film can’t possibly cover all that occurred within this timeframe. “Lincoln” does tilt majorly toward the slavery issue nevertheless, but one wishes for the motion picture to pick a lane at times. Either do that or focus on everything equally will be the only thing for which viewers will ask.
“Lincoln” is attached to a valid anchor, Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln, so many faults are forgiven—foibles like being too preachy, too lengthy, yet the biggest problem I found was the lack of blood during the Civil War sequences. This causes laughter when one remembers Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” from 1958, and to put salt on an open wound, Spielberg is a huge fan of Kubrick, but he didn’t learn from a film that showed the way.
“Paths of Glory” showed war at its darkest political depths; “Lincoln” buries the politics to backrooms and table meetings when it should be on the front lines where it belongs: Before, during and after conflict shows the true consequences of the politics of war.
Spielberg’s latest chooses profanity (f-bombs) amidst discussions over blood during the battle sequences within “Lincoln.” The opening number shows troops from each side being stabbed and shot, but blood is absent.
And to further defy logic, the soldiers in this motion picture appear only to bleed after they’re dead. So corpses covered in blood are supposed to be realistic? Isn’t this the same director that made war real in “Saving Private Ryan”? I rest my case in that regard.
Great performances keep “Lincoln” from being unwatchable; the players keep even the worst dialogue afloat. On that note, Tommy Lee Jones lifts the words written by “Munich” screenwriter Tony Kushner to astonishing heights. It could be the actor himself, Tommy Lee Jones, or one could put forth the notion that his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens—a man at the forefront of equality for all peoples for the Republican Party of the time—comes so close to a man none of us have ever seen outside a photograph or drawing that’s the real attraction.
According to the credits, “Lincoln” is based “in part” on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals”, but I’d guess that reading that book on your own time (if you haven’t already done so) would be more enjoyable than this motion picture. And you might actually learn something, too, unlike most Spielberg films.