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Fall Movie Pros & Cons: Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln'

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
October 8, 2012 5:29 PM
6 Comments
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A week into October, and fall movie season is firmly underway. The box office received a kick-start thanks to "Hotel Transylvania," "Looper" and "Taken 2," the Oscar contenders are starting to come into place thanks to "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Life Of Pi," and festival screenings at Venice, Telluride, TIFF and the NYFF have provided looks at many of the films we're going to be seeing on screens as the months get colder and the days get shorter.

But what of the unknown quantities -- the high-profile fall and winter movies that we haven't already taken a peek at Sundance, Cannes or any other festival? Over the next two weeks, we're going to take a look at each of them in detail, setting forward why we hope they might be great, and why there might be reason to be cautious.

And to kick things off, where better than Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," which gets its unofficial premiere at the New York Film Festival tonight ahead of an official unveiling at the AFI Fest next month, before going into limited release on November 9th, and wider November 16th. Are you excited about Spielberg's Daniel Day-Lewis-starring political epic? Or are you suspicious of it? Let us know in the comments section, and check back over the next two weeks for the rest of the big fall movies.

"Lincoln"

The Case For
Steven Spielberg's best film of the last decade (and arguably the best since "Schindler's List") was "Munich," his 2005 film thriller about the Mossad agents sent to kill those responsible for the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich games. Sure, it lurches into misjudged sentiment in its final moments, but for the most part it was as difficult, grown-up, well-made and powerful a film as America's favorite movie director has ever made. So the news that he's teaming up again with Tony Kushner, the writer of that film (and of "Angels In America," one of the great plays of the 20th century) for a biopic of Abraham Lincoln, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's acclaimed "Team Of Rivals," felt like good news to us.

And that was even before it was revealed that Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most gifted actors of his generation, was on board to pay Lincoln. While some have quibbled over his voice in the trailers revealed so far, it's got all the earmarks of being another powerful performance from the British heavyweight. And he's not lacking in support, with Oscar-tipped roles from Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones among an extraordinary cast that also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, David Strathairn, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, David Oyelowo, John Hawkes, Adam Driver and Walton Goggins, among others.

The decision to focus on the last four months of Lincoln's life, as he fights to amend the constitution to permanently outlaw slavery, while also seeking a lasting peace with the Confederates, is a smart one, focusing the drama rather than trying to paint a broad portrait of the man. And with Spielberg's usual team (DoP Janusz Kaminski, composer John Williams) in place, you can be sure that it'll be technically impeccable.

The Case Against:
Spielberg's never exactly shied from sentiment, and that was always the risk with "Lincoln." We've been hoping that Kushner might balance that out -- as he mostly did on "Munich," but there are definitely moments in the most recent trailer which make us worry that the Bearded One is over-egging the pudding (the montage including Martin Luther King and 9/11, David Oyelowo seemingly suggesting the Gettysburg Address). Could we be heading for another treacly "War Horse"-type picture?

And the other risk is that the film goes the other way. The film's creative team have been upfront about it being quite procedural in nature, focusing on the passing of legislation rather than more emotive elements. Again, footage so far suggests a film that involves a lot of middle aged men talking in rooms, which gave us flashbacks to "Amistad" more than anything else. We'd follow the cast almost anywhere, but it's always possible that they'll end up with something dry and stagey, targeted at wonks and history buffs more than anyone else. Given that the last non-vampire-related Lincoln movie, Robert Redford's "The Conspirator" almost put us into a coma of boredom despite an equally fine cast, we're certainly a little cautious.

And it's also worth noting that since "Munich," Spielberg hasn't been on great form -- only three films in seven years, none of which ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull," "The Adventures Of Tintin" and "War Horse") were especially satisfying. Is there a risk that the great director has lost his mojo? Day-Lewis is coming off one ofthe few disappointing turns in his career, in "Nine," too. We'll find out which way the film turns out imminently: it premieres as the not-so-secret screening at the NYFF tonight. The Playlist will be in attendance, so we'll have our thoughts for you in a few short hours.
 

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6 Comments

  • Charlie | October 11, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    Munich was great but calling it arguably his best film since Schindler's List seems a bit forced to me... Are we forgetting Saving Private Ryan (arguably the greatest war film ever made) or Minority Report (one of the best sci-fi pics of the past twenty years).

    I also was a big fan of War Horse. Treacly or not, it affected me emotionally and I was in awe of its epic scope. After all, our latest Best Picture winners have been some of the most sentimental films in ages (The Artist and The Kings Speech...)

  • DAVID HOFFSON | October 8, 2012 11:47 PMReply

    AT LAST WE ARE GOING TO SEE WHAT LINCOLN DID. HE WAS NOT ALL TALK HE PUT HIS NAME ON PAPER AND YOU WILL SEE HIM FIGHT WITH ALL WHO TOLD HIM NOT TO DO THAT HE DID WHAT HE WANTED AND NOT CARE WHAT THEY SAYED TO HIM HE GOING TO FREE BLACK PEOPLE SO THAT SOME DAY SOME ONE LIKE DR. MARTIN L.KING JR. BE FREE TO DO IT. AND MORE. AND MOVIE IS BETTER THEN ALL PAST ONE'S OR AS GOOD AS T.V. MOVIE ON DR.KING WAS IN 1978 WITH PAUL W. FEILD WAS GOOD TO.

  • DGDVNGREEN | October 8, 2012 7:04 PMReply

    I fall firmly into the 'suspicious' camp but I'm more than willing to give this a try

  • MishuPishu | October 8, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    Overly sentimental is Spielberg's calling card because he's just not a very good filmmaker. A long time ago, he defined the way films were perceived with some fun-filled fast-paced quality films. But then he just became bland.

    I thought Munich was a terrible film. It was all style at the beginning then devolved into a hateful commentary on revenge, including some of the most misogynistic and violent images toward women that have ever been portrayed on the silver screen. It's despicable that the man gets such a free pass in Hollywood when he makes crap like that.

  • Ugh | October 8, 2012 10:02 PM

    There's one born every minute.

  • Ronan Vandrer | October 8, 2012 5:49 PMReply

    As the non-cynic I am I think it will be a great film and Spielberg's best since Munich. Also, you have to be European to appreciate Tintin.

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