I rarely go to the movies. With four children, my wife and I would have to find a babysitter, and that plus ticket prices can get pretty expensive. It’s much cheaper to simply wait for the Blu-Ray to come out.
This doesn’t bother me. I’m not one of those people who must “see it in the theaters.” Catching it up on the big screen is nice, sure, but I’d rather lounge on my couch and have the liberty to pause the movie for bathroom breaks, truth be told. Plus there’s the always the risk that there will be trouble at the theater. I don’t mean the trouble on the scale of the tragedy this year in Colorado, which a mentally disturbed man opened fire on innocent people; that was a horrific, rare event that we had never seen in the theater before. No, I speak of the everyday type of issues: the pre-teens who giggle or talk during the show, the guy who “forgot” to turn off his cell phone, the women brazen enough to take a call, the overly affectionate couple sitting in front of you, the picture being out of focus, the person sitting behind you who keeps kicking the back of your seat, and on and on. Whenever I go to the movies, I deal with at least one of these. And frankly, I’d rather skip the headache and simply get the Blu-Ray.
The exception to that rule is going to the movies with my dad. He lives three hours away, so it doesn’t happen often, but it’s something both of us enjoy. It’s fun to go out to eat with Dad, shoot the bull, and then cozy up into a theater and watch a movie together that my wife probably isn’t all that excited about seeing.
My dad is a huge history buff, particularly when it comes to the Civil War. His personal library back home is full of books about the war: battles, biographies, politics, historical fiction. He can’t get enough of it. So he’s read quite a bit about Lincoln and has been waiting for this movie with bated breath ever since it was announced.
I find the Civil War fascinating as well. I can’t pretend to be an expert on the subject like my dad is, but I loved The Killer Angels, and I still consider it one of my top ten favorite reads of all time.
Needless to say I was excited about the movie, too, partially because I was raised on Spielberg. The man was my idol as a kid. If Spielberg touched it, it must be made of gold.
I was also blown away by the early pictures of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, who has an uncanny resemblance to the man. So much so that it was almost eery when I saw the production stills.
As for the movie, it was incredible, brilliant in every respect. I thought the cast was amazing. Sally Field was wonderfully kooky as Lincoln’s wife. These days, she would have a wealth of antidepressants at her disposal, but back in her time, it was dealing with it or off to the madhouse. Tommy Lee Jones was great as well, and I suspect that he and Field will be nominated. Jones was essentially playing himself, however. I recently read an interview with him in Entertainment Weekly, and he’s as ornery and taciturn in real life as he is in all his movies. But hey, just because the man was playing to his strengths doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve recognition for it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to have been in every movie this year, was good as well. But the real star of the movie in my mind was James Spader. As a back-alley political vote-buyer, Spader stole every scene he was in. I couldn’t get enough of him. Which reminds me, the movie was far funnier than I expected. I laughed out loud several times.
Daniel Day-Lewis will almost certainly win the Oscar. The buzz around his performance is already enormous, and once the Hollywood train starts moving in one direction, it’s impossible to stop. If he does win, it will be well deserved. Day-Lewis really humanized Lincoln. Throughout the movie I felt as I were looking through some time portal into the past, watching real events instead of a finely crafted piece of moviemaking. The man WAS Lincoln, or at least what Lincoln could have been.
If I had any scrap of criticism it is that there were a few moments in which the movie was too aware of itself and trying too hard. Back when I did improv, we had a game called Oscar Winning Moment, in which the the actors on stage would improvise a normal scene based on a suggestion from the audience. At some point during the scene, the offstage moderator would call out one of the actors by name and shout “Oscar winning moment!” At that point, our sound engineer would play some moving piece of soundtrack from a famous film, and the actor would get all melodramatic, responding to the music and giving a bombastic, brief performance, not unlike the clips they play at the Oscars highlighting an actor’s performance in a movie. So the improviser weeps or becomes angry or goes into some mournful soliloquy, usually to very humorous effect. The audience always ate it up. And there were a few instances in Lincoln where I felt as if Spielberg were off camera saying, “Daniel, Oscar winning moment.” The “Shall we not stop this bleeding” line from Daniel Day-Lewis was one such moment. It plays in all of the trailers, which only validates my point. It says, See, everyone. Look at this man’s performance. Look at this man act!
But I’m being unfair, really. Overall I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was amazing. The man really does disappear into his roles, and I’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
As for other aspects of the film, the screenplay was brilliant. Cinematography was beautiful. Art direction, costumes, the film was great in every possible way. Unless Zero Dark Thirty picks up some serious awards-season steam, I suspect Lincoln will dominate Oscar night.
But most important, my dad and I had a good time together. We hung out, we laughed, we talked Lincoln the whole drive home. I didn’t even mind the person behind me in the theater who kicked the back of my seat all through the previews. He stopped kicking once the movie started. Perhaps I have Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance to thank for that.