By Roger Thomas for the SNAP
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 —
Let’s begin with the question in the title of this review. Will the film “Lincoln” make cinematic history?
No male has ever won three Oscars for leading roles in different films. Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Abraham Lincoln, could win his third Best Actor Oscar for this film (“My Left Foot” in 1989 and “There Will Be Blood” in 2007 were his first two wins).
If Steven Spielberg were to win Best Director he would join three other directors who have achieved this milestone: John Ford who won four directing Oscars, plus William Wyler and Frank Capra who won three each. All of these directors won each of their awards prior to 1960.
No director has captured three directing Oscars in the last fifty-two years.
The mere fact that there is a discussion about Day-Lewis and Spielberg making history says volumes about the quality of the film “Lincoln.”
There is much to like here. All the technical categories that I often write about are exceptional: art direction, cinematography, editing, sound and musical score (by constant Spielberg collaborator John Williams).
And as good as Daniel Day-Lewis is as Lincoln, I will be more disappointed if Tommy Lee Jones does not win on Oscar night for his perfect performance as Rep. Thaddeus Stevens.
I have written before that I was not enthusiastic about Jones’ first Oscar for Supporting Actor because he won over two performances I thought should have been recognized in his stead: Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”
This year, I will most likely be pulling for Jones, because I have yet to see a supporting performance better than the one he has given in “Lincoln.”
Then there is the brilliant script by Tony Kushner that is guaranteed to get Oscar’s attention.
Spielberg has directed some great stories but no other script in his vast canon of films equals that of “Lincoln” with the exception of his greatest work, “Schindler’s List,” with the brilliant screenplay by Steven Zaillian.
“Lincoln” is ultimately a film of words, formal and informal conversations, speeches and challenges.
In many ways it is like watching a play, for the epic scenes played outdoors are few and far between.
And the power of the film happens indoors where words flow off the lips of the actors and the audience in the theater yearns to catch every phrase.
“Lincoln” is a great and vast film and yet in many ways it is a small simple film about words that had to be spoken in order to change history.
As I have pondered the film for five days after seeing it, before I began to write this review, the one thing that has stood out in my mind is the truth that great things can be accomplished if convictions are worthy and held.
There is a great deal of politics and political maneuvering in “Lincoln.” And a lot of it is less than healthy or virtuous.
Our national politics today mirror many of the situations of our nation’s past. I am sure there were those hopeful that Lincoln would not win a second term. I am sure there were those who hoped to stalemate his agenda, not on the merits but because he was not their choice.
In the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, President Lincoln chose a worthy goal and remained committed to the cause. We should all hope that every branch of our nation’s government would choose convictions that will truly advance our nation, rather than partisan games that will only be remembered by history as sad jokes.
With all this written, I would point out that I am not ready to call “Lincoln” the best film of the year. It is one of the best, but there is still a month or more to go. Besides, I have seen at least one, and maybe two films I think are better. However, Lincoln is one of the best. But don’t go into the theater seeking physical action. Go to marvel at the power of words, the power to change the world.