Discuss: Is Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' Typical Oscar Bait, Or Is There Something More?

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by Oliver Lyttelton
September 14, 2012 12:14 PM
20 Comments
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With TIFF peaking earlier this week, by far the biggest story of the past few days has been last night's debut of the trailer for Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Probably one of the most anticipated films of the year, the match-up between America's most beloved filmmaker and its most legendary President has seemed like a potent one ever since the project was announced seven years ago. And a casting change -- swapping out Liam Neeson for two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis -- and a star-laden list of supporting players, only made it seem more and more like the film could turn out to be a major achievement.

Of course, with the film targeting a November release date, talk of the picture has gone hand-in-hand with its Oscar chances, and it seems that many have reacted to the trailer with that in mind. Has Spielberg made a film that's the culmination of a lifelong dream? Or is it a cynical attempt to get back on the podium at the Dolby Theater by hitting all the stereotypical awards picture markers?

There certainly seem to be plenty that believe the latter, with the trailer seemingly getting a somewhat muted reaction across the internet, with the shadow of the director's last film, "War Horse," looming fairly large. "More melodramatic, cliched Spielberg popcorn fodder," wrote one of our commenters. "The whole thing is kind of boring to me," added another, while one compared the clip to "Home For Purim" in Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration." We're not sure we see it ourselves, but points for the obscurity of the reference. And yet another wrote, somewhat schizophrenically, "DDL is an overpraised actor working with an overpraised director in my opinion. The two of them are fantastic, no doubt, but really?"

Now, if the internet has taught us anything, it's that a filmmaker could upload a video of themselves saving orphans from a burning building, and someone would hate it. But many would argue that between "Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of Crystal Skull," "The Adventures Of Tintin" and "War Horse," Spielberg is on one of the more disappointing runs of his career, and there are legitimate causes for concern here. Dusty courtroom settings out of "Amistad," a treacly, opening-credits-of-an-Aaron-Sorkin-show score from John Williams (coming off "War Horse," arguably his most overwrought score ever), and grand lines that seem to be not so much spoken as declaimed -- it's also decidedly lacking in a sense of humor, from what we've seen thus far.

And yet we still feel there's much to be intrigued by. Out of context, the lines might creak a little ("Leave the constitution alone," etc.), but the script is by Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and the scribe behind "Munich," a film which ranks among the director's very best, and is certainly one of his most adult and complex. The source material is Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team Of Rivals," also a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a detailed and comprehensive look (as the book's subtitle says) at the political genius of Lincoln.

Furthermore, despite the yawning claims of some that the film will be another sprawling biopic, Kushner and Spielberg have taken their cues from Goodwin's book, and focused the film tightly on the last four years of Lincoln's life. Sprawling it might turn out to be, but this isn't going to be some meandering biopic trying to cover everything in two-and-a-half hours. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis looks to be as immersed in his character as ever. These are all things that aren't exactly going to be reflected in a trailer -- something that Spielberg was at pains to emphasize in the Google Hangout preamble, suggesting maybe he isn't crazy about the marketing either. That isn't to say that the director's trademark sentiment won't be found in the film, but as "Munich" and others have proven, the director's capable of navigating rich layers of character, and a Lincoln seemingly haunted by the dead of the Civil War in the trailer seems to reflect that.

Perhaps more importantly, to dismiss the film as nothing but awards bait is simply misguided (as it normally is when you try and pinpoint a filmmaker's intentions). Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars. Day-Lewis has two for Best Actor. We're sure they wouldn't be upset at the prospect at winning their third statuettes, but that's not going to have been their motivation. Given that Spielberg has been working on the project for years, and that the picky Day-Lewis chose this project, we don't think we're being generous or naive by believing that they simply wanted to tell this story. We don't know if "Lincoln" will be any good or not (though reactions may start leaking this month as we've heard press will start seeing it soon), but we certainly hope it is. It could well turn out to be another "War Horse," or, god forbid, another "Always." But at any rate, Spielberg's ambitions are not just limited to how many Oscars he may or may not get.
 

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20 Comments

  • OP Hip | October 12, 2012 7:25 AMReply

    ---Lewis can be a superb impressionist, if not much
    of an actor of an actor of depth. Alas, even he can't get beyond
    the make up job in this stilted, stale, done-to-death retread.

    The ONLY thing ---still---- unexamined, indeed, unmentioned
    in the Lincoln story was his KEY alliance with the Czar of Russia
    in the face of pressure from City of London monopoly Globalist banking.

    BOTH leaders emancipated their slaves, and serfs, almost simultaneously.


    Spielberg continues to BALK the unfolding scandal of Hollywood's
    4 decades of relentless, eager and 'on board' predictive programming
    for the Globalist agenda ----including horrific FINAL EUGENICS.

    He continues to deliver the stalest of the stale PC moral alibis ----for himself.

    STEER CLEAR!

  • Kurskij | October 2, 2012 6:51 AMReply

    The trailer was very low-key for some reason. But that must be a deliberate choice by Spielberg. Note that trailers for his movies always reflect the tone and pace of the final product. To me this looks more like Schindler's List than Amistad as some people pointed out.

    Spielberg might have been a tad too overwhelmed with his own technical prowess lately (War Horse isn't a bad movie by any means, but it looked so polished I could almost see the varnish dropping from the screen - strange complaint, but it took me out of the movie).

    Here I believe he goes for a simpler, more intimate take on historical events. And Day-Lewis is definitely up for the challenge. So let's wait and, hopefully, enjoy Spielbergs return to form.

  • Sophie | September 20, 2012 7:20 AMReply

    I think the key here is Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems to a knack for sussing out the credibility of a script and film makers. Plus, a think Spielberg is probably due a good one after his recent run.

  • Pluie | September 20, 2012 12:07 AMReply

    ..I still think it's just a bad trailer..

  • wayno | September 17, 2012 10:24 AMReply

    2x BEST DIRECTOR- SPIELBERG
    2x BEST ACTOR- LEWIS
    2x BEST ACTRESS-FIELD

    NOTHING BUT OSCAR BAIT….LOOKS GOOD

  • JD | September 14, 2012 11:13 PMReply

    Why on earth must there be an editorial simultaneously pandering to and apologizing for the kind of bellowing, ignorant tasteless assholes who scream and rant about anything that isn't "Kick-Ass" or "300" or the latest sneering, immature, hate-filled supposed "comedy"?

    I hope Spielberg makes nothing but "War Horse" type old-fashioned studio films for the rest of his career, just to piss these guys off. The fact that you are qouting these dipshits in the body of this piece as if they are offering legitimate critical opinions is just...painful.

  • MDL | September 14, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    Is ANY movie released after Labor Day typical Oscar bait? Do we need to ask? [I'm not blaming any filmmakers for this btw].

  • Kyle | September 14, 2012 3:23 PMReply

    I think if you're making a story about our greatest president, you can't help but make it Oscar worthy. And that comes easier for a director of Spielbergs caliber.

  • MJ | September 14, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    Thank you for the calm optimism backed with plenty of substance, I said plenty in the last article, perhaps I'll copy some of that over here later, I don't know. I do want to point out that the film focuses on the last four MONTHS of his life, not years, & this fact makes your argument even stronger.

  • James | September 14, 2012 6:08 PM

    Yep, that fact is key. This is NOT a biopic at all. It's a very focused film about the final weeks of Lincoln's life as he tries to get the Constitution amended to end slavery. It's not attempting to hopelessly cover the entire sprawl of his existence.

  • cirkusfolk | September 14, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    I don't get the Spielberg hate going on here. I own more movies made by him more than any other director, and it's not cause I'm a huge fan per se (if I was I'd own them all) but because they are just good movies. It's true he hasn't been very consistent lately, but I'm hoping this film puts him back on track. Films I own: Jaws, ET, all three Indiana Jones', Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and Munich. So yes, Munich was his last great film but that was 7 years ago. He's due.

    Side note: the only other director I own 10 of their films is the Coen Brothers.

  • brace | September 14, 2012 1:14 PMReply

    I don't know about Spielberg's motivation to make this movie. But I'm cure Day-Lewis didn't take this role for Oscar. What actor would refuse to play Lincoln in film, unless he has a serious lack of confidence in his own acting abilities?

  • Raptor | September 14, 2012 1:12 PMReply

    I'm interested to see how the oft mentioned "procedural" elements of the story come across in the film. We'll see about Munich comparisons cause let's be honest here, Munich is dope. Any word on rating on this movie? He only wins with "R" Ratings and "War Horse" would have been better if it was R.

  • MJ | September 14, 2012 2:28 PM

    But the whole point of War Horse was to aim a story of how the vagaries of life affect a family/young man at youth audiences. That's why it's cynic-bait & overly schmaltzy for so many. An R-rated War Horse would have been pointless.

  • Ken | September 14, 2012 1:05 PMReply

    I was only commenting on the music, it just cheapened it all for me. The images, the acting, the designs all look great to me, but good lord, John Williams... I don't know, maybe I'm still reeling from his War Horse score so now I'm paying more attention to it than usual.

  • Christian | September 14, 2012 12:53 PMReply

    I believe the film will deliver, just wait and see, this is another "Munich".

  • Matt N. | September 14, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    Great piece, Oliver. I have no clue why the reaction to this trailer was so negative, but I think it looks quite good. You're right that Spielberg's track record has been a little off lately, so maybe this is the turning point. Either way, I can't wait to see DDL.

  • owdl114 | September 14, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    Seriously?! You're writing articles on this after a 2 and a half minute trailer? You shouldn't be. Judgement surely should be saved until after you've seen the full length feature.

  • owdl114 | September 14, 2012 2:07 PM

    Wey! That god I didn't read the article then seeing as we're on the same wave length :)

  • Oliver Lyttelton | September 14, 2012 12:45 PM

    That's sort of the point of the article.

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