I know that’s not the proper respect I should be showing this film. But the sad fact is, Lincoln struck me as an undramatic, on-the-nose bore. I say that fully expecting it to be nominated for, and win, the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. That’s because it’s about America’s first god, Lincoln; it’s directed by Hollywood’s current first god, Spielberg; and it’s written by the saint of American theater, Tony Kushner.
I hate being the guy who says the emperor is naked. But this thing is ponderous, preachy, way too long, and filled with scenes that felt emotionally dishonest to me. When Thaddeus Stevens makes his big speech, John Williams’ music made me think I was being transported to heaven.
Now you could argue that no one today could make a good film about Lincoln. Whatever flaws he may have had, Lincoln earned his place as first god of America. He ended slavery, remade the nation, and won the Civil War (at the cost of 10% of the population, the equivalent of 33 million people today).
He was the smartest President we ever had, and the best writer, and that includes Thomas Jefferson.
But gods don’t make good films. The argument has been made that this film shows Lincoln’s dark side, as he gets down into the mud of politics. This is nonsense. Lincoln offers jobs for votes, which was not only a common practice at the time, it wasn’t even immoral, given that the vote was for human equality.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy to have a serious drama about a man, an era and an event I have been fascinated by since childhood. But let’s not lose our heads and call it great screenwriting and filmmaking.