Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Video review: "Lincoln"

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a mesmerizing, nontraditional performance as the 16th president of the U.S. in “Lincoln,” a biopic that makes its own bold choice. In narrowing the scope of that epic life to focus on only a single month of Lincoln’s presidency, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner manage to reveal something of the man’s enormity while upending our conceptions of him.

Start with the high-pitched, quavering voice Day-Lewis uses. By all accounts it matches contemporaneous descriptions of Lincoln’s actual speech, but runs counter to most depictions of him as deep-throated and steady. In a sense, the cast and filmmakers have to rip aside the legend of Lincoln to uncover the truth of him.

The story covers the push to the pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery, even as the Civil War reaches its bloodiest stage. Other key players in the tale include Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field), whose mental anguish threatens her husband’s public life; their son Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who yearns to prove himself in battle; and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), the fiery emancipator who wants to go further than Lincoln and declare equality between the races.

The script is a little uneven at times, as Kushner offers too-clever winks to the audience as the characters reminisce about how they will be perceived in posterity. I think the reason the film didn’t fare better at the Academy Awards is that most people viewed it as a terrific performance with only a pretty-good movie around it.

That’s too harsh an assessment. Though it sometimes indulges in wonky political discussions, “Lincoln” strives to reach the essence of a great man, and largely succeeds.

Video extras are pretty good, though Spielberg maintains the unfortunate tradition of most high-profile directors in eschewing a commentary track.

The DVD comes with “The Journey to Lincoln,” a pretty standard making-of documentary. Upgrade to the two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, and you add a featurette on the historical tapestry of Richmond, Va.

Go for the four-disc set and you add a host of goodies. There’s a feature all about Day-Lewis’ meticulous construction of his character, and three more featurettes about the production design and costumes, a shooting diary and John Williams’ Oscar-nominated music score.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars

1 comment:

  1. Not perfect by any means, but still a flick that had me informed, while also being entertained. Now if only school was more like that. Good review Chris.