[Spoiler Alert? This post discusses the beginning and end of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.]
It’s awards season, which means that I stayed up past my bedtime last night to watch the Golden Globes and that the theaters are full of movies that I actually want to see. So far, among movies vying for top honors, I’ve seen Silver Linings Playbook and, as of this past weekend, Lincoln.
After I saw the film on Saturday I was glad to also see, finally, a review that isn’t just a sycophantic parade of lavish praise. I stand firmly in the camp that Lincoln deserves every acting and writing accolade it has been given. But as far as films go, in its final rendering Lincoln is just average – I don’t think it deserves best film or best director, and as it turned out the good folks from the Hollywood Foreign Press didn’t either. (Interestingly, though, last night’s best director winner Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for an Academy Award in that category.)
Spielberg deserves the blame here, because rather than sticking to the hard, critical core of the writing, and directing the movie for what it is – a compelling, taut, inside-the-beltway political procedural – he gave us the beginning of Saving Private Ryan (redux) followed instantly by a schmaltz fest of fawning Union soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address to its author. And the end … oh, the end … after he dies from the gunshot wound and his corpse dissolves into an ethereal mirage of The Great and Powerful Mr. Lincoln floating in the golden flame of a burning candle. I had the same reaction to Mimi’s death scene in the film version of Rent, when suddenly her finger twitches. She’s not dead! In both cases I almost laughed out loud.
Those parts of Lincoln made it seem like Spielberg was less interested in making a film about the 13th Amendment and more interested in offering art direction on his own lifetime achievement montage. Luckily, however, what came in between made for pretty good moviegoing. Daniel Day-Lewis played this thing to a tee, and Sally Field was a jewel as Mary Todd Lincoln. Here is a great interview with her, in which she talks about her long career, her struggle for the role of Mary Todd, and the next phase of her life. (For a shorter, text version of much the same material, here’s an interview she did with USA Today.)
I wanted to adore her as Mary Todd, but a couple of things got in the way, the first being that I’m not sure Mary Todd was adorable. Even though this sounds like a sideways compliment from a Southern mother, I mean it as a credit to Field’s craft as an actress – she did such a good job that it was hard to really love her. And secondly, while I thought she handled the material well, she did not disappear into the character in the same way that DDL did. This likely has more to do with me and my own baggage than it does with anything Sally Field did or did not do in Lincoln, but I couldn’t help but feel like there were times when Nora Walker or M’Lynn Eatenton had shown up. Even though J remarked that DDL’s Irish accent bled through, where Field’s character was concerned I just thought I’d seen her do that role before.
I was rooting for her last night, though somehow I knew her name wouldn’t be called. I’m afraid it won’t be called on Oscar night either, which wouldn’t be a big deal except we’ll have to hear another speech from Simpering Anne Hathaway. But that’s okay, because when she wins hopefully Anne will reprise the only part of her speech from last night that wasn’t cringe-worthy – the part where she commended Sally Field.
Finished reading Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.