This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th January 2013
Up against 12 Oscar nominations, mine may be a lonely cry in the wilderness. Because frankly I found Lincoln interminably boring. Well, it does eventually end after two-and-a-half hours of talk and swirling John Williams music – but aside from the occasional scene where superb acting distracts you from writing a mental shopping list, it’s disappointingly dull.
Without doubt, Daniel Day-Lewis will, and should, win Best Actor for his portrayal of slave-trade-liberator Abraham Lincoln. His performance is simply astounding, effortlessly conveying the great president’s unrelenting commitment to the noble cause, the avuncular influence with a warm twinkle in his eye. Despite not having seen footage of the real Lincoln, Day-Lewis has us believe he is the man.
Granted, there are other strong performances, though we’ve seen Tommy Lee Jones’ fist-thumping southernness before. Sally Field has been lauded as Lincoln’s erratic and ultimately (sym) pathetic wife, but she comes across shrill and old, and not at all a match for the great man (neither actor nor president).
The main problem is the film lacks tension (save the ultimate scene of vote-counting), suffering perhaps from being a story to which we know the ending. Spoiler alert: Slavery was abolished!, although 2006s comparatively lighter, yet more moving, Amazing Grace, proved much more engaging with the same outcome.
Otherwise Lincoln is just scene after scene of almost exclusively male famous faces spouting complicated and oft-witty lines. It is a veritable Live Aid of a cast, sporting James Spader, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Hal Holbrook – not quite everybody who’s anybody, but a lot who used to be somebody.
Perhaps Lincoln resonates with American audiences because slavery is a scar on their past which continues to itch. Whatever, director Steven Spielberg has made many a true story interesting and exciting before. But here we are given no Negro identification character to care about, so it’s hard to feel what’s really at stake.
Those swayed by the Academy’s enthusiasm will, and should, make up their own minds. But I’m afraid this is one super-hero story that couldn’t make me care.