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"Lincoln" Review

This will be short: Daniel Day-Lewis will win his third Best Actor Oscar and Lincoln is an insufferably boring movie that I couldn't force myself to watch in two attempts. Sorry, kids, but I'm not being paid enough to spend the time on this tedious drivel.

The first attempt lasted about 30 minutes before my girlfriend asked if we could stop because she was bored and I wasn't enjoying myself much either. With the Oscars coming up this Sunday and having seen only four of the Best Picture nominees, I figured I should make the effort and that's the problem with Lincoln - it requires more effort than entertainment should require. (If PBS made history shows this droning and dull, Big Bird would be arguing for funding to be cut!) After another 25 minutes of yammering, I gave up because I wasn't even done with the first hour of this 2-1/2 hour slog.

In between my viewing attempts, I listened into a conference call with screenwriting teacher John Truby as he ran down his thoughts on this year's screenplay nominees and he was particularly harsh on Lincoln because it wasn't a screenplay as much as a play that's been filmed. Written by playwright Tony Kushner, it is talky, wordy and verbose so speech after speech unfurled. Truby feared it would win because, "It's directed by the first god of directors, Steven Spielberg; written by one of the top three playwriting gods of the American theater, Tony Kushner; and it's about the first god of Presidents, Lincoln." Yep, pretty much.

I made it as far as when Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) held up a reception line while blathering at Tommy Lee Jones (as Agent K sent back in time by the MIB to ensure that his future partner would be a free man - what, too soon?) for what felt like forever. Toggling the time counter, I saw it was 55 minutes in and that was enough for me.

DDL's performance looked terrific, humanizing what has been a remote image cultivated by $5 bills and the Hall of Presidents at Disney World, but by setting the story in the five-week period when the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) was debated and passed in January 1865 it means we get lots of political speechifying which should be interesting, but it isn't. Spielberg trades in his usual golden look for a monochromatic chiaroscuro style of cinematography, but it just makes the Really Important Movie pretensions more unbearable.

This was what I call a "broccoli movie" - something we're supposed to eat because it's good  for you - but for all the clearly committed and talented people involved (though it gets distracting when another familiar face shows up in period drag), it simply can't make what should be riveting and compelling even passingly interesting. Ken Burns did a 57-part series about the Civil War with nothing but still photos and people reading letters and it was a smash. Why couldn't Steven Spielberg with a towering Daniel Day-Lewis come anywhere remotely near? Blame the writer and the hubris of those who thought importance trumped brevity and focus.

Score: DNF. Skip it.


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