Using the surname of a real-life historical figure as the title for your film is a courageous move. It says to me, and many others, that this is the definitive film on this person’s life.
Recently a film called Hitchcock was released. It is widely regarded as an average film that doesn’t even come close to representing the man behind the name. Hitchcock was used incorrectly and gave us a film undeserving of such a legend’s surname.
It may be harsh but Spielberg’s Lincoln also misuses the name. It isn’t the vapid piece of mainstream fluff that Hitchcock is, but it isn’t the all-encompassing biopic the title Lincoln conjures in your mind either. A more appropriate title would have been ‘The 13th Amendment’.
Whilst undeserving of it’s title, Lincoln is by no means a bad film. It is in fact a very good film, one deserving of the praise it is receiving. But Lincoln is hardly about Lincoln at all.
First and foremost the film is about the 13th Amendment and how Lincoln and the Republicans got it to pass. This is by far the major arc, the major focus of the film. For a lot of the best, most powerful scenes in the film, Lincoln is absent. The House of Representatives and the wonderful actors in that room provide the film Lincoln with gravitas.
As Lincoln can’t be in the films key sequences, it questions why Kushner and Spielberg would want to make a film about Lincoln and focus so heavily on the vote. It is no doubt the highlight of his career, but to make it as prominent as it is feels like a miss-step. The early scenes involving Lincoln’s speeches and getting people on board for the vote provide us with the best insight into who Lincoln was. But for the last hour he virtually disappears, playing second-fiddle to amazing performances from Tommy Lee Jones and David Costabile (deserving of more attention).
Focus on story instead of a man is what Spielberg got wrong here. Everybody on earth knows about the 13th Amendment and how it went down. By focusing on it the audience isn’t learning anything. It makes the film predictable and explains why the term “boring” is used in a lot of reviews. A deep character study of Lincoln would however educate an audience. The fact that a stupid vampire movie provides more insights into Lincoln’s upbringing (whilst portions are obviously fabricated) shows just how little this film has to offer on Lincoln.
Which brings me back to the start. Lincoln has been a passion project for Spielberg for decades. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this movie my entire life. Spielberg loves Abraham Lincoln, so why is he so disinterested in telling Lincoln’s life-story? All we get here is his great achievements, but what lead him to these achievements? What made him the man that wanted to abolish slavery? I’ve learnt more about Lincoln by spending 2 minutes on Wikipedia than I did spending 160 minutes with Spielberg.
3.5 out of 5.0