Monday, November 19, 2012

The Storyteller

Where did the weekend go?  Honestly, I'd really like to know.  I suppose when you rehearse from 8:30 - 5 one day and then 2-6 the next (with church and choir practice in between), you have a tendency to lose track of the time.  Not to worry though, friends, I still have a new film review for you.  I'm finally looking at considerably more "grown-up" material now that my first two "fantastic" films are out of the way.  This weekend I was looking for something quieter and more deliberate...something I could watch and enjoy a meal at the same time.  That last comment is not some random thought either, I really did eat a meal.  The AMC Theaters at Easton Towne Center opened a Dine-In Theater this past summer and, I must say, it really is the perfect match for a long and, dare I say, morose film.  You order when you arrive, and the server brings your food to you either during the previews or during the first half-hour of the picture.  It's slick, efficient, and surprisingly non-obtrusive to the viewing experience (servers will walk back and forth in the theater from time to time, but they always keep low and out of sight of the screen and are surprisingly adept at being heard over the film but also not disturbing the folks nearby.  The accommodations (comfortable and roomy seats that aren't squeezed together) and food aren't bad either (comparable to a T.G.I. Fridays or an Applebees).  It was the perfect evening for the quiet and thoughtful picture we chose to see.  It was a movie that required real attention to be paid to performances and the action on screen and, despite its seemingly stodgy and stuffy attitude, it commands your full attention the entire way through thanks to tremendous performances.  It is a film about one of the best amateur storytellers of our country directed by one of the best professional storytellers of the film world.  Let's travel back in time and get more acquainted with Lincoln.

The film opens on a the battlefield during the Civil War where two African-American soldiers and two Caucasian soldiers relish meeting Abraham Lincoln as he is going into his second term.  It gives a candid and frank look at the man behind the legend.  He is somber, quiet, and gentle in his speech and mannerisms and he enjoys telling a good story.  Flash forward a short while and we find Lincoln worrying over his latest obstacle, the proposed 13th amendment to the constitution that will abolish slavery.  It is established early on that many of the citizens of the Union who support Lincoln's proposed amendment only because they believe it will end the Civil War that is tearing apart the country.  Meanwhile, influential Republicans are trying to put together a peace treaty between the Union and the Confederacy and it threatens to undermine Lincoln's plan to remove slavery from the country.  Add to that the vehement opposition from the Democratic party, led by Congressman Fernando Wood, and suddenly the soft-spoken storyteller is finding himself stretched fairly thin.  Compounding the frustration is the knowledge that his oldest son Robert is joining the Union army and thus is forcing his wife Mary Todd to despise him.  Lincoln must overcome all of these obstacles to pass what may be the crowning achievement of his career.

Lincoln may sound like a generic biopic, and in many ways it is, however the direction and the performances manage to elevate this above average and into remarkable territory.  To see Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln is to really see Abraham Lincoln in the flesh.  He becomes the man in a way that is uncanny and spooky, but it completely grabs you and transports you to that moment in time.  You want to see and hear him and to learn what he does.  The rest of the cast is amazing as well, but two others stand up above the crowd.  Sally Field's Mary Todd Lincoln is amazingly fragile and yet tough in a way I haven't seen her be since Steel Magnolias or Eye For an Eye.  She wins our sympathy early and keeps it, even when she behaves somewhat like a shrew to her husband (because, even though she hurts him...we understand why she does it and can empathise).  Finally, Tommy Lee Jones steals all of his scenes as Thaddeus Stevens through his uncanny usage of verbal irony and a completely dry delivery.  If he isn't nominated for Best supporting Actor, I'll eat my hat.  Likewise, Day-Lewis is the man to beat at the moment for Best Actor (in my humble opinion...I say that having not seen Joaquin Phoenix in The Master).  I'd say unless someone comes along and blows him out of the water in the next month (I'm looking at you Hugh Jackman) Day-Lewis will take home the gold.  Lincoln is definately a must-see film this season and you owe it to yourself to see it (unless history really makes you snore).

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