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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 2, 2013

Lincoln Movie Review: Should Have Won As Oscar Best Picture

THE PAST TWO years, “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” dominated the Oscars, winning best pic, best director and best actor awards. Both are highly overrated movies. “Social Network” is much better than “King’s Speech” and we really don’t know what the voters saw in “The Artist” which pales so much in comparison to “Singing in the Rain” as a tribute to silent films. The last Oscar Awards is a case of something for everyone. All the nominated best films (except for “Zero Dark Thirty” that suffered from a pre-Oscar backlash) won a major award: “Argo” as best pic, Ang Lee as best director for “Life of Pi”, Daniel Day Lewis as best actor for “Lincoln”, Jennifer Lawrence as best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook”, Christoph Waltz as best supporting actor for “Django Unchained” and Anne Hathaway as best supporting actress for “Les Miz”. With such consuelo de bobo choices, it’s impossible to agree with all of them. We still prefer Hugh Jackman in “Les Miz” but Anne already won so pick Daniel so “Lincoln” will have a major award. Actually, “Lincoln” is our best picture bet.

Let us explain. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is not a full film bio about someone commonly considered as the best U.S. president, so we don’t see his poor Kentucky childhood or hear him delivering the famous Gettysburg Address. It focuses mainly on three weeks in January of 1865 during his second term as president when he tries the get the historic 13th Amendment, or emancipation act that bans slavery, to be passed by Congress, just before he gets assassinated.

We do have subplots about his son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who wants to fight and has become a symbol of the Civil War and his problematic wife Mary (Sally Field). The film requires some concentration and not for those with short attention spans. It’s best to be familiar with American history. By the time the film starts, the Civil War has been going on for four years and hundreds of thousands have already died. The North’s victory is near. The film makes it clear to viewers that if the bill weren’t passed before the South returns to the Union, it would never be passed and slavery would go on.

To achieve his objective, Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) would resort to anything, from gentle persuasion and manipulation to arm-twisting, threats and even bribery. It’s fascinating to watch Lewis inhabit and morph into his role to become the tall gaunt bearded Lincoln in the flesh. Lincoln’s folksy mannerisms, stooped posture and behaviour are well documented and Lewis even got his high-pitched voice down pat.

He’s well supported by the actors who played real historical figures. First is Sally Field as his wife who’s plagued by her own demons, forever grieving about the death of their son Willie at the start of the Civil War. Field captures the emotional turmoil of her character quite perfectly. Another standout is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who supports the passing of the emancipation act for a very personal reason. He can be bombastic and witty, but it’s a performance that is always under control. Then there’s David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward who’s forced by Lincoln to buy votes in congress to pass the act, Jackie Earle Haley as the South’s vice president, Jared Harris as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, leader of the trio (along with Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes) who’s asked by Seward to buy Democratic votes in congress.

But it’s not the acting alone that is superb here but also the screenplay by Tony Kushner (based on Doris Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”). We already know what happened but the sequence where the house is finally voting on the amendment is a true nail-biter. We also loved the movie being book-ended by two of Lincoln’s well loved speeches, with Gettysburg being delivered by white and black soldiers while in the battlefield. The period costume and production design and the other technical aspects are all topnotch, particularly the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski (also Spielberg’s DOP in his last film, “The War Horse”) that makes the film look like we’re watching old tapestry. This is Spielberg like we’ve never seen him before, so different from his escapist works like Indiana Jones, “E.T.”, “Jurassic Park” and even his more serious ones like “Schindler’s List”, “Amistad” and “Saving Private Ryan”. This is definitely one of his most awesome achievements as a virtuoso filmmaker. We’ve stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. but it’s only now we get full grasp of who and what Honest Abe really is in American History.