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Billy Summers: ‘Lincoln’ a fine movie, but lacking some action

Nov. 25, 2012 @ 06:58 PM

Well, it might as well be titled, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, because there was more Spielberg in the production.  Director Spielberg (“Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) did his best interpretation of Ken Burns, offering up a mini-series style movie that was great, but a bit tedious.

That was almost a given considering the movie was devoid of the two modern Hollywood components that make for a blockbuster: sex and violence. It is hard to think of Lincoln and the Civil War without picturing violence on a grand scale, battlefields with thousands of casualties and an assassination that was up close and personal.  But Spielberg pulled it off.

Daniel Day-Lewis (“Last of the Mohicans,” “Gangs of New York,” “There Will Be Blood”) made for a darn good Abraham Lincoln, although he was the exact opposite of Henry Fonda’s “everyman” portrayal in “Young Mr. Lincoln” in 1939.

Both movies showed off well, the long-winded storyteller that was our sixteenth President, but in the Spielberg adaptation, Lincoln was less the Burl Ives, jolly elf and more the senile Ebenezer Scrooge.

It was fun listening to his stories, yet you were always expecting a bawdy ending that the ladies weren’t allowed to hear.

Sally Field (“The Flying Nun,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Steel Magnolias”) also made a strange Mrs. Lincoln, sometimes arguing with her husband in the same temperament and tone that she used on Burt Reynolds when the two of them were toolin’ around in that black Trans Am in the ‘70s.

Serious actor David Strathairn (“We Are Marshall” “Dolores Claiborne,” “Good Luck, and Good Night”) portrayed  William Seward in his usual Film Noir style, always dead serious and on point, the voice of reason, even as other voices were louder and more in your face.

It is one of the few cases where the stereotyping of a performer works for him.

“A List” star Tommy Lee Jones (”No County for Old Men,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter”) gives a hammy performance as the quirky Thaddeus Stevens, a forerunner to a Newt Gingrich or a Rush Limbaugh.

He is always fun to watch, and can spew forth the quintessential laundry list with a tone of righteous indignation that would show well as a filibuster on the modern Senate’s floor. The problem with this movie was not with the actors or their dialogue, but with the direction.One part play, one part miniseries, and another part documentary, if Spielberg had pulled it off, it would have been legendary.

However, it came across to me, as a fable with larger than life characters and scenery.  This was no “Gone with the Wind” from a scenery perspective, and I got so tired of seeing the riverboat scene, that I kept wishing that it would sink…

It was as though the cameraman was too lazy to reset the camera and just stayed in the same position throughout each scene.

This was an overly long movie that did not make me sympathetic for the protagonist.

Lincoln’s trials and tribulations leading up to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment was one of the best showings of all the hatred, deceit and maneuvering that goes on in Washington, but that was not enough to carry a movie about a great American.

“Lincoln” was a fine film, but most of us (at least, me) were looking for a movie.

I wasn’t really happy with this year’s earlier cinematic effort, where Honest Abe was chasing vampires, but, in the words of Elvis, “…a little less conversation, a little more action, please…” would have made me happier.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.