William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THAT'S NOT ENTERTAINMENT – AT 8:35 A.M. ET:  We note with dissatisfaction that the august United States Senate adjourned yesterday so members could see a screening of Steven Spielberg's new film, "Lincoln," in the Capitol. 

The event was arranged by Harry Reid, who is a fan of the movie. 

I am not.  I saw it last weekend.  The last time I saw anything that dead was in the meat department of Stop 'n' Shop.  But I can understand how someone with Harry Reid's personality would like it.  It makes Harry look like a dynamo.

The problem goes beyond a wooden, plodding script, and extends into unimaginative direction (surprisingly) by Spielberg, and some equally unimaginative cinematography.   If you turned off the picture, and only listened to the sound, you missed nothing.  That's not what great filmmaking is about.

Yes, there were some fine moments, especially toward the end, and some excellent performances.  I liked Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln.  I believe he showed respect for the history and tried to be true to the character.  Sally Field turned in a fine performance as well, but I'm not sure that was Mary Todd Lincoln.  I think she softened the real person.  If there was a standout acting job, it was Tommy Lee Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens.

But, as a movie, "Lincoln" just didn't move.  It lacked visceral drama, and, strangely, it lacked size.  The movie was about the attempt to pass the 13th Amendment banning slavery, but we never saw a single slave.  What we got was endless dialogue saying very little.  

Great filmmaking about the civil war?  Give me "Gone With the Wind" anytime.  True, it wasn't about a political debate, but it drew us in and had a sense of the drama of the time.  The one scene where Confederate casualties are lying in a large open space – actually the parking lot of the studio – told us more about the pain of the Civil War in ten seconds than "Lincoln" told us in an hour. 

"Lincoln" will win all kinds of awards.  It's the kind of movie people say they like because they think that's what they have to say.  It's the type of movie Hollywood likes to applaud because it makes Hollywood feel respectable.  But I wonder how many people will ever want to see it a second time.  For this member of the audience, the first time was hard enough.

December 20,  2012