Film Preview: Lincoln
by Matthew Durham

About a month has past since Lincoln had its trailer premiere through Google Hangout succeeded by a Q&A with director Steven Spielberg and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (playing Robert Todd Lincoln.) The trailer was received with mixed reaction from fans and critics alike.

What provoked this mixed reaction was the after-thought of his previous film War Horse which earned six Oscar nominations, but no wins. Reading reviews and processing the reactions of the trailer it can be deducted that War Horse can now be considered ‘under-rated.’

I won’t spend the duration of this article defending the 2011 film, but I do want to draw a point that Spielberg’s directorial efforts are being held to increasingly high expectations. The word commonly used to criticize War Horse was ‘schmaltzy.’ Spielberg has two types of films incredibly realistic and well-made dramas: Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan. And fantastical films that sparked memorable nostalgia and fantasy in audiences: ET, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Close Encounters.

There are of course great films teetering in the middle such as Catch Me If You Can and War Horse. Out of all the films I just listed though, the most successful films come award season were is hardcore dramas Schindler’s List winning an Oscar for Best Picture/ Director and Saving Private Ryan winning Spielberg Best Director and top greatest snubs of all time for Best Picture against Shakespeare in Love. 

Anyways, this all leads me to Lincoln. The trailer hit with John Williams cliche, yet beautiful war orchestra and the trailer displayed a genre of fanaticism similar to War Horse. “War Horse didn’t win a single Oscar, it was only nominated, he can NOT repeat that;” paraphrasing critics and viewers. So yes, Oscar bloggers kept predicting it to do well, but not as well as they probably predicted before last night.

Last night there was a not-so-suprise screening at the NYFF of Lincoln. Audience members were told not to review the film and that it was still unfinished. Luckily there is a loophole that tweets aren’t considered reviews.

Rodrigo Perez of “The Playlist” says: “Characterized by refreshing restraint, its passionate convictions and patience, if Steven Spielberg’s worst tendencies are his propensity for the sentimental and overwrought (as evinced recently in much of  “War Horse”), his latest, “Lincoln,” thankfully possesses almost none of those unfortunate traits. However, as a two hour procedural about the ratification of an amendment in the House Of Representatives (does anything sound more appealing as a premise to you?), “Lincoln” is also not exactly the most engaging nor well-paced picture either.”

Eric Kohn of “Indiewire” says: “At two hours and 30 minutes or so (no one was quite sure of the runtime beforehand), “Lincoln” contains only a single battle scene in its opening seconds. The rest is pure talk, a keen dramatization of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome “Team of Rivals,” that delivers an overview of Lincoln’s crowning achievement in chunks of strategy talk. Ostensibly a well-acted history lesson, it captures the turmoil of the period by observing Lincoln at work rather than wasting time valorizing him.”

Katey Rich of “The Guardian” says: “The backroom deals and legal hurdles to make that happen are immensely complicated, but after some bulky exposition this wheeling and dealing among lawmakers makes for the film’s strongest scenes. Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) hires a trio of hooligans (John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and James Spader) to rustle up votes for the amendment through whatever means necessary, while on the floor of the House of Representatives, anti-slavery lawmaker Thaddeus Stevens (a gloriously scene-stealing Tommy Lee Jones) bellows at pro-slavery Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), with the roomful of men around them banging on their desks and shouting over each other. If only modern American politics were remotely as entertaining.”

There were also tweets from Oscar-Blogger Scott Feinberg (The Hollywood Reporter) who praised the film and put forth the notion that Tommy Lee Jones is now a major contender for an Oscar nomination playing Thaddeus Stephens. He stated that the film received sustained applause and an immediate burst of enthusiastic tweets.

What does all this mean? Sounds like Lincoln bears less similarities to War Horse than the trailer projected. Once it gets received by more critics I imagine universal praise for the performances and the realistically historical storyline. The few bad reviews it may get will come from people who get bored and go in expecting intense Civil War battles. From the responses, this film will be about President Abraham Lincoln and his battle to turn the amendment and abolish slavery.

Definitely on me ‘to see’ list.