Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lincoln: the Movie, the Guy, and Stuff

Just watched Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s a movie of reverence, message, and potato salad. It shows the effort of someone trailed by Hollywood’s self importance. The movie points to important things but its inadvertancies are more striking. It doesn't take long to figure out which moustache or chin whisker denotes the bad guy. Every black face is solemn and nearly speechless.

Daniel Day-Lewis gets a tour-de-force to work with. Anyone who has applied the whiskers to chin has had an iconography to deal with. By main effort (tho it doesn't show) Lewis keeps the character lively and alive. Lincoln himself, of course, was richly eloquent and succinct, but also given to jokes and silliness. Doris Kearns-Goodwin's book from which the movie derives shows the wise and thoughtful approach to compromise that Lincoln used. It is an approach completely obliterated by the self-serving wheeler dealer in the current White House, whose binary thought processes center on schism. The greengrab of our cabinet is horrendous, if you haven't noticed.

I found the opening awkward. A couple of black Union soldiers are having a confab with the president. Trump would treat such an occasion strictly as photo op (paper towels to the victims in Puerto Rico) but Lincoln knew how to speak to human beings. One of the soldiers speaks piquantly about the racial situation. Lincoln sits in a circle of light, looking like the Lincoln Memorial. Ease up, Steven. The soldier leaves reciting the Gettysburg Address, which just comes across as overly buffed up.

The plot of Lincoln focuses strictly on the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. Government in action, and pretty touchy. Heaven knows that compromise doesn't always work. Blacks as partial people, as the Constitution tries to have it, is just a capitulation to the venal horde. Likewise the Missouri Compromise. Neither answer could possibly work in this given machine. The polarities that Trump blithely and crudely plays with cannot keep balance. The result can only be spit and fire. Lincoln, the movie, reminds us of this. Government by schism is not government.

Spielberg from his lofty perch can load the cast with all the best sports, and first class facial hair. Day-Lewis' performance is captivating albeit highly conscious. The liveliness of James Spader in his role surprised me. Crusty Tommy Lee Jones simmers and glares in the face of anything.

Other actors fare less well. Sally Field played the Strong Female Role. The writing and direction gave her no chance to make Mary Todd other than a spokesperson. The movie wanted a tortured presence but one that made human sense, but that balance is a little too many for slouching Hollywood. I don't blame Fields. Spielberg can't help himself.

He did at least keep Ford Theatre offscreen. Little Tad the president's son attends a play when someone rushes onstage to announce the president has been shot. Oh the temnse drama Spielberg could have made of Booth and the derringer and all those juicy elements.