Monday, 4 February 2013



Zzzzzzz.... There's not a whole lot that's worse about being sternly lectured about something we're already well aware of. Spending two and a half hours in the cinema being smacked round the head with the metaphorical rubber truncheon of Serious Message would be bad enough if it was a dazzlingly revolutionary idea being pitched, but it's far worse when it's something that no-one under the age of 150 is going to argue seriously about. You might as well make a sprawling epic about why women should have the vote or why drowning puppies in a canal is a Bad Thing: we kind of know this already. Sadly, being told a truth we already hold to be self-evident, not to say the bleeding obvious, has little dramatic heft behind it: it's like South Park's Mr Garrison shouting "Slavery is bad, mmkay?" at us for a hundred and fifty minutes.

Lincoln isn't really about Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) - the entire action covers less than a year of his second term as president - but focuses almost exclusively on his fight to abolish slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment while the Civil War still rages. As explained in pages of exposition, he needs two-thirds of the votes in Congress but is probably short by about fifteen votes: can he and his Secretary Of State William Seward (David Strathairn) persuade enough Democrats to switch sides?

It's worthy, it's respectful, indeed reverential, it's immaculately photographed, lit, performed, scored and costumed - and it's more than a little bit dull. Its political procedures are more interesting than the family soap opera dramatics, but much of it is still speech after speech after speech: deep political and philosophical arguments that go on and on and on. They may well be accurate and authentic, and endlessly fascinating to American History buffs, but in terms of cinema they're dead on the screen and the film really needed an Oliver Stone (from his angry, shouty period) behind it to give it some fire and liven the bloody thing up. There's no humour, no levity, no light or life to it: it's glum and sombre and enlivened only by the gold standard grumpiness of Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens, flamboyantly bellowing insults at everyone.

I suspect this will be enough to win the Oscars and fill that remaining bit of blank space on Steven Spielberg's mantelpiece. Frankly it doesn't deserve to: of the nominees (that I've seen) Zero Dark Thirty is indisputably the better film. But it's also the more problematic and Lincoln's the safer bet: "slavery is horrible" rather than "we sometimes torture people". (Personally I'd like Argo to win.) To take issue with the film is not to take issue with its message, but with the manner of its delivery: technically superbly crafted, but overlong, preachy and lifeless. Hugely disappointing.


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