I try not to spread my disdain with my writing, but for one movie this year, I’m making an exception: Lincoln.
I’ve pointed out that despite being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture Oscar, Avatar isn’t even an average movie. An achievement? Of course. Visually stunning? Who could argue? But a great movie? Not even close.
This year, Lincoln is our Avatar.
You have to love and respect what Abraham Lincoln was able to do. You’d have to give up your right to vote in this country if you didn’t love the 16th president. Most of us probably felt some patriotic pride for Lincoln before we'd ever heard of a movie about him.
After the movie Lincoln, you’re supposed to love him. But we already did. If the movie doesn’t change any minds, or bring any new thoughts to the audience, then it isn’t the kind of consciousness-expanding movie that deserves a Best Picture award.
Daniel Day-Lewis certainly inhabits a character, as we’ve come to expect. But his Lincoln is an unforgivably slow and hard-to-watch character. If this movie were about a fictional character, we’d be seeing nothing but parody after parody on late night TV. It would not be a Best Picture nominee.
Lincoln is written as a play, and it doesn't manage to utilize any technique of filmmaking that could not have been used on stage. This script would lose absolutely nothing, if it was brought to the theater word for word. That does not make a well-written movie.
Characters speak every expositional thought aloud and directly. (“I am the secretary of state!”) These are not lines that mask the emotional intent of a character, his/her inner desires, or what he truly wants that he isn’t willing to admit to himself.
Subtext that floods Silver Linings Playbook hardly washes up on the shores of Lincoln. This is what is often referred to as an actor’s wet dream. A character who gets to have a big speech, proclaiming his exact feelings. No one woke up the collective actor in time to stop Lincoln’s nomination for Best Picture.
There are some great scenes. The exchange between Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones is a wonderful exercise in tension. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a brilliant (and visually driven) scene after visiting a military hospital. And the epic House floor vote lives up to expectations. But these few scenes are the exception to the collective of the film.
An axiom in screenwriting: If you can remove one scene, and the movie still makes sense, then the scene is not needed. Roughly 60% of the scenes in Lincoln fail this test. The movie would work without more than half its parts. That makes for a very boring movie. If you look at Argo, there is not one wasted scene. No line that didn’t need to be included. No gratuitous hero shots. Just lean story telling.
Lincoln fails to entertain for most of its run. No one is saying that about Django Unchained. The aim of this movie, down to its posthumous speech inside a candle flame (I’m not joking) is for me to worship Lincoln. I did that two and a half pretentious hours ago.
“But it’s Lincoln! You’re not allowed to dislike a crucial part of our history like Lincoln!”
Yes we are. We have to have the courage to see the film for what it is and not who it’s made by, nor even who it’s about.
Somehow, I’d like to believe Lincoln would’ve wanted it that way.