I was in New York City last weekend and had a choice between seeing two icons – James Bond or Abraham Lincoln.
I wanted to see Bond, James Bond in his new movie “Skyfall.”
My lovely companion voted for “Lincoln.”
Not surprisingly, I was out-voted. We went to “Lincoln,” which opened in NYC a week earlier there than in Buffalo.
On further review, I’m glad we did.
Thanks to a mesmerizing lead performance by Daniel-Day Lewis as President Lincoln that made me forget how long it was, the film directed by Steven Spielberg is an extraordinary retelling of American history. It also has a timely message about the need for the two main political parties to come together for the nation and mankind’s good.
However, it isn’t entirely what one expects from a Spielberg movie. There are a few wonderful cinematic moments primarily dealing with Civil War scenes. But his direction is mostly restrained because by necessity the film is more about dialogue and ideology than it is about “wow” scenes.
“Lincoln” scores on multiple levels – it is dramatic, it is comedic and it is historical.
After leaving the theater, I told my companion that “Lincoln” reminded me of one of the historical films that the broadcast networks used to make into miniseries before they became unprofitable. They’ve left them for pay-channels like HBO (remember “John Adams”?) to make occasionally.
However, “Lincoln” may have given broadcast TV some second thoughts. A trade newspaper, the Hollywood Reporter, reported this week that NBC is thinking of making a regular series about George Washington. Among those involved is Buffalo writer Tom Fontana of “St. Elsewhere” and “Oz” fame.
I imagine the interest in “Lincoln” has something to do with NBC’s interest in bringing our first President to life.
Spielberg’s name and that of the extraordinary Irish actor Day-Lewis in addition to American icon Tommy Lee Jones give the film big box office possibilities. I had to buy my tickets in NYC a day early and the showing was so packed that my companion and I had to sit a row behind each other. I doubt that problem is going to happen starting today in Western New York.
Besides the big names and the big history lesson, “Lincoln” enabled me to play a game with myself: Name that TV series actor. The cast is loaded with actors who have done extensive work in TV as well as film.
Sally Field, lately of ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” plays Lincoln’s wife and is telling everyone that she had to screen test to get the role. Stephen McKinley Henderson, the University at Buffalo professor, plays a White House servant. Gloria Reuben of “ER” plays a dressmaker who is one of Mrs. Lincoln’s personal aides. Jared Harris, the late Brit on “Mad Men,” plays Ulysses S. Grant. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Arnold Rothstein on “Boardwalk Empire,” plays a guy with a swing vote on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. James Spader (“Boston Legal”) plays a comedic role as one of the men trying to “persuade” or “bribe” outgoing members of Congress to vote to end slavery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way from “3rd Rock from the Sun” to become a major film star. He plays Abe’s son. S. Epatha Merkerson of “Law & Order” has a surprise cameo.
If my father were alive, I’m sure he would have whispered in my ear throughout the film where each actor appeared previously – that’s if we would have been able to sit together.
The Name Game aside, “Lincoln” works so well because honestly Abe is such a great storyteller and a bit of a comedian. He tells so many stories that at one point a character says something like, “oh, no, not another damn story.” (I wasn’t planning to write about the film so I wasn’t taking notes).
The humor offsets some very serious business in which the Republican president – (yes this is somewhat ironic considering how few African-American votes Republican Mitt Romney won a few weeks ago) gives out some gifts to rivals and makes some compromises to try and end slavery at what he believes to be the ideal political time after winning re-election.
Of course, we all know how Lincoln’s life ends. My one criticism is the movie seems to end three times. I much preferred the visually compelling and poignant one before the assassination. When I told my brother about this criticism, he said he read a review that said the film had four endings.
So I heartily recommend “Lincoln” and hope you see it this weekend. I’m going to see Bond, James Bond, with one of my sons.
WBBZ beat The NFL Network locally in viewership for the Bills’ 19-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins Thursday night. The game had an 18.3 rating on the local independent station and a 13.9 rating on The NFL Network for a combined rating of 32.2. WBBZ’s telecast did have one advantage – its HD feed of the NFL Network’s HD coverage seemed to be almost a second ahead of the NFL channel. That’s probably something to do with a technological issue that I don’t understand.