Lincoln (USA, 2012)

lincolnDirected by: Steven Spielberg. I was way behind on the Oscar season, and that’s basically the only reason I wanted to see this. I like to follow Spielberg and everything, but this seemed like another predictable Hollywood hero worship story. It’s about this towering figure of American hero worship—Abe Lincoln!—how could it not be hero worship? Now that I’ve seen it, I can say that, yes, it’s textbook hero worship shit. It is, I’ll admit, a very long, very dry, anti-action-packed, verbose political drama about passing a piece of legislation and all of the white men who are trying to pass this legislation. So it’s a tricky case. On the one hand, it’s a pretty non-populist, non-mainstream, dare I say intellectual film simply because it’s so long and dry and, to most popcorn munching Vin Diesel fans out there, fucking boring. And perhaps this is why I like it (we’ll take the elitism as read). It takes guts in this day and age to forgo a lot of explosions and gunfire, or at least explosive personal drama and loud outbursts etc, to just lock in and deliver 150 minutes of political/legal paperwork. Of course, this film does pander a bit to the Academy—a pretty fatty, unnecessary subplot about Abe’s private life with Mrs. Lincoln, which got her nominated for an Oscar even though it didn’t really do anything for the film in my opinion—and another fatty subplot about Abe’s son (nice mustache, JLG!) who wants to fight even though his dad doesn’t want him to. Yawn. This film is about the goddamn legislation. It’s about a movement, an idea, groups of landholding white men deciding the future of landless black men who were property. This is, by definition, a sexist, racist world, and to me the film suffers because it has to give a few nods and winks towards us 21st century “post-racist”, “post-sexist” folk, not to mention giving a huge sloppy handjob to the Hollywood conventions of a focal human agent who nobly and magically makes everything good happen, purely from the central awesomeness in his awesome being. The passing of this Amendment (the thirteenth?) is about a lot of things bigger than Abe Lincoln. I’m no historian but come on, folks. Really? The Great Man theory? If Hollywood wants to catch up to the rest of humanity any time now, that would be great. A movie called Lincoln, presumably about the individual Lincoln, might perhaps want to focus on some idiosyncrasy in the man’s character, not as a fluffy byproduct of the main story, but as the film’s focal point. Who the hell was Lincoln anyway? What is the intersection between the flesh-and-blood man and the posthumously deified, canonized political/religious figure that we all know? What—is that not INTERESTING enough a topic for a Hollywood movie? Of course, that hypothetical film was never on the table—this was an adaptation of  a book called Team of Rivals that was all about the passing of this legislation and to sell tickets and make it more simple and marketable, they changed the title to focus on the lone man, to make it align easier with some overgeneralized, well established way of interpreting history that the lowest common denominator is familiar with. Ultimately, I do want to call this a lowest common denominator movie, as every single Spielberg movie is, but I am incredibly interested in Spielberg, especially his stuff from the last 12 years or so, from AI onwards. And as much as I love watching Daniel Day just riff and do his thing, I feel like Lincoln’s role in this narrative is almost marginal. Fuck it, I’ll say it—Lincoln is a supporting role in Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones has a more important role, the opposition leader played by Peter McRobbie had a more important role. Hell—the guy who played Gale in Breaking Bad has more importance to the drama of this bill getting passed than Lincoln does. If we keep all of the personal stuff with Lincoln’s family life, his personality, etc, it’s an interesting movie, but it’s a different movie than this movie. I’d like to see that movie, and I’d like to see this movie about the Thirteenth Amendment without all of the fluffy Hollywood distractions in it, too. Each is really compelling but to me, together, they just kind of don’t work.

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3 responses to “Lincoln (USA, 2012)

  1. Pingback: The Conspirator (USA, 2010) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Bridge of Spies (USA/Germany, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Malcolm X (USA, 1992) | Offhand Reviews·

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