Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2013)

What's it about? As the American Civil War continues to rage, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) must use all his political wiles to get the US House of Representatives to accept the controversial Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which will abolish slavery.

Is it any good? I feel a bit mean for not liking this more. It's intelligent, handsome film-making, which tackles complex material with ambition and clarity. It has a great sense of time and place, thanks to intricate period detail and authentic sounding dialogue, and it is superbly acted. Day-Lewis, who won an unprecedented third Best Actor Oscar for his performance, is predictably excellent, his Lincoln exuding a wonderfully quiet gravitas that anchors the film. Around him, a host of be-wigged and be-whiskered familiar faces (including Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader, Jared Harris) also give fine performances which lend the whole film a stamp of quality. But despite all these elements, it never really soars as it should. The political machinations are interesting rather than riveting. The juxtaposition of Lincoln's personal and professional life never really coheres satisfactorily - the scenes with his wife (Sally Field) and son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) feel shoehorned in. And for such an important piece of US history, it doesn't really convey how momentous this event was. Ultimately feels like a heartfelt, but somewhat uninspired, history lesson. Despite Spielberg's reputation for populism, this feels like a more esoteric project, coming across as a film made about people, by people, but not really for people, you know what I mean? 

I don't trust you. What do others think? I was interested to get the views of various US Presidents on the film, so I headed along to the G8 conference, taking place in Northern Ireland this week, for a drink and chat with the guys. I've quoted some of their thoughts below.

"Day-Lewis was brilliant. I'd like to offer that man a cigar!"
Bill Clinton

"I'm just glad I didn't have to deal with anything that serious in my time."
George W. Bush

"Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of playing Lincoln. This was a dream come true."
Morgan Freeman

"I liked the one with the shark better."
George Bush, Sr.

"I would have preferred less politics and more vampires in it."
Barack Obama

"Pah! Looked nothing like me."
Abraham Lincoln

What does the Fonz think? Three score and ten / 100 

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