The final months of the Civil War a time when President Abraham Lincoln struggled to end slavery and bring the Confederate States of America back into the fold of the Union are among the most important moments in Unites States history. They're also the murkiest. Eleventh grade American History tried to teach us — war four scores Emancipation Proclamation the 13th Amendment and a fateful night at the theater — but with a few hundred years' worth of events to process most people leave school knowing that Lincoln made a couple of important moves that turned the world what it is today.
Thankfully we now have a film courtesy of the legendary Steven Spielberg that brings the 16th President's amazing uphill battle to cinematic life. The cold hard facts could not be more impressive.
For Lincoln an adaptation of the Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Spielberg scales down his usual blockbuster sensibilities (last seen in 2011's World War I melodrama War Horse) to craft an intimate portrait of an iconic political figure. To pull it off writer Tony Kushner (Munich and the two-part Angels in America) constructs the film like a play relying on the soothing chameleon presence of Daniel Day-Lewis to breath life into Lincoln's poetic waxing. The president hits roadblock after roadblock on his quest to free the slaves and end the war Kushner and Spielberg weaving in handfuls of characters to pull him in various directions (and accurately represent the real life events). Each time Day-Lewis' Lincoln gracefully dances the dance solving every problem with action and words. Today Lincoln is held in high regard as an inspirational figure. Spielberg shows us why.
Lincoln isn't a full-blown birth-to-death biopic of the Great Emancipator and is all the better for it. Picking up in January of 1865 years into the Civil War Lincoln summons his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) to say enough is enough — the time is ripe for the abolishing of slavery. Against the vocal naysayers of the Union and even his personal confidants Lincoln attempts to rally the congressmen he needs to make his bill an amendment. He hires three men (John Hawkes Tim Blake Nelson and the wonderfully outrageous James Spader) to use whatever nonviolent means possible to swing the vote. All the while well-spoken adversaries (like Lee Pace's Fernando Wood) take to the House of Representatives floor to discredit Lincoln and dissuade congressmen. Keeping the progressive foot in the door is Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) a foul-mouthed powerhouse who shares Lincoln's ambitious dreams of equality.
The story is simple but Kushner doesn't shy away from laying down lengthy passages of political discussion in order to show the importance of Lincoln's task. It's dense material spruced up with Kushner's ear for dialogue. But even so it occasionally meanders into Ken Burns documentary territory. Case in point: there are so many characters with beards in Lincoln Spielberg even flashes title cards underneath their opening scenes just so we're not lost. The fact-heavy approach takes getting used to but Spielberg and Kushner adeptly dig deep beyond the political gabfest to find a human side to Lincoln. He's a gentle man a warm man and a hilarious man. The duo's Honest Abe never shies away from a good story — at times he's like Grandpa from The Simpsons lost in his own anecdotes (much to the dismay of his cabinet). Day-Lewis chews scenery as hinted at in the trailers but with absolute restraint. That makes his sudden outbursts really pop. When Lincoln becomes fed up with pussyfooting politicians like the quivering representatives played by Walton Goggins and Michael Stuhlbarg Day-Lewis cranks the high-pitched president up to 10. He never falters.
There's a great deal of humor and heart in Lincoln — partially because the circus-like antics of Washington D.C. feel all too close-to-home in this day and age — and Spielberg paces it all with expert camera work. The drama is iffier: a side story involving Lincoln's son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teases an interesting family dynamic that is never fully explored and is clunky when dropped to the wayside in favor of larger issues. Same goes for Lincoln's wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) who continues to grieve for the couple's lost child. They are important issues but they don't quite work in the fabric of this specific narrative.
The larger world outside the offices of the White House and Congress is often forgotten too — we hear a lot of war talk without seeing a whole lot of war. Instances where Lincoln ventures out into fields of the dead have emotional impact but we feel disconnected from it. Where Spielberg really gets it right is in the chaos of the presidential occupation. There is no easy task for Lincoln. "I may have been wrong about that " says Abe referencing his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation "but I wanted the people to tell me if I was." Day-Lewis understands Lincoln's complex internal thought and brings it forward in each scene: humble confident deadly and compassionate.
Spielberg's technical team once again wows and echoes the lead performance. Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski's contrasting photography near chiaroscuro makes the beautiful set and production design hyper real and highlights the actors' aging faces. Composer John Williams returns once again but with a score as low-key as Day-Lewis' character — a change of pace when compared to War Horse. It's all up to par with Spielberg's past work without turning Lincoln into a flashy period drama.
Day-Lewis was the talk of the town when the first Lincoln trailers made their way on the web. Surprisingly however Lincoln wows because it's a well-balanced ensemble drama. Lee Jones delivers his best work in a decade as the grouchy idealist Spader delivers the comedic performance of the fall season and every scene introduces another familiar face to add additional gravitas to the picture (as opposed to being a distracting cameo fest). S. Epatha Merkerson's late-in-the-game scene opens up the tear ducts in a way that none of her male costars can.
If history isn't one of your interests Lincoln may not rouse you — background reading not required but conversation moves at lightning speed and without much hand-holding. It's a change of pace for Spielberg and a welcome one. With all the bells and whistles that come with being the biggest director of all time Lincoln looks amazing sounds amazing and has enough talent to make it an exhilarating learning experience.
A film divided against itself cannot stand. In the historical drama The Conspirator director Robert Redford is torn between telling the story of Mary Surratt a Washington D.C. woman implicated (wrongly it seems) in the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln and delivering a scathing cinematic indictment of the government’s treatment of civilian detainees in the War on Terror. Redford’s efforts at making his political argument however convincing come at a significant cost sapping the film of much of its entertainment value.
The Conspirator begins in a spirited enough fashion vividly chronicling the events surrounding Lincoln's assassination and its tumultuous aftermath. As word of the president's death spreads angry Northerners demand swift and harsh justice for John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts while panicked newspaper headlines warn of future attacks by Confederate malcontents. The suspects are rounded up (save for Booth who is shot before being apprehended) and soon thereafter the story shifts to the trial of Surratt (Robin Wright) mother of one of the conspirators and owner of the boarding house in which the assassination plot was hatched. Her fate the government has decreed is to be decided not by a jury of her peers but by a military tribunal – an unprecedented move that amounts to nothing less than “an atrocity ’” declares her attorney Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in a withering speech that makes the film’s overriding Guantanamo allegory crystal clear.
Southern-bred Johnson thinks Surratt might get a fairer shake from the court with a yankee representing her and so he places her case in the hands of his protégée Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a 28-year-old Union war hero with no courtroom experience. His task is a daunting one: Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) a scheming Cheney/Rumsfeld composite is manipulating matters behind the scenes to subvert the rule of law and ensure a conviction despite indications of Surratt’s innocence. Aiken’s impassioned defense and the great personal and professional risks he takes in mounting it ultimately provide the crux of the film.
Lest we forget The Conspirator’s political raison d’etre Redford takes care to remind us repeatedly with a heavy-handedness that detracts from an otherwise compelling story. Pertinent plot details are skimmed over to leave room for ham-fisted dialogue exchanges. Surratt and Aiken are treated less as characters than as symbols a sainted mother and an idealistic lawyer martyred by a government so bent on retribution that it abandoned its most cherished principles in pursuit of it. In one telling scene Aiken walks alone at night on a cobblestone street bathed in so much radiant light that his body is partially obscured. The only thing missing is a halo.
The movie icon will take charge of The Conspirator, which chronicles the woman executed as an accessory to John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Lincoln.
Mary Surratt was hanged for her part in the murder of the President in 1865.
Robert Redford will be first out of the gate with an Abraham Lincoln-themed film, the Risky Business blog reports.
Redford will direct the historical drama The Conspirator, the story of Mary Surratt, alleged conspirator of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
An indie film, Conspirator will be produced by Greg Shapiro, Rob and Web Stone and Brian Peter Falk with plans to shoot this fall. Bill Holderman is co-producing.
James Solomon wrote the screenplay.
Producers are out to cast, with James McAvoy said to be at the top of their list for one of the lead roles.
Surratt was a Washington D.C. boardinghouse owner who sympathized with the Confederates and was allegedly part of the plot to kill Lincoln, supplying Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold weapons at her tavern after the shooting at Ford's Theater. Surratt's son John was also alleged to be part of the conspiracy.
Other Lincoln-themed projects have bubbled up around Hollywood in the recent past without much forward momentum. Steven Spielberg has been attached to direct Lincoln, a biopic with Liam Neeson possibly in to play the sixteenth president, and HBO and Walden have been in development on a story about the search for Wilkes Booth after the assassination, based on James Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. The project at an earlier stage had Harrison Ford attached to star.
Redford's most recent trip behind the camera was the UA film Lions for Lambs. He is also attached to direct Against All Enemies, the adaptation of Richard Clarke's expose about the Bush administration's intelligence failures. That project, however, is now uncertain in the wake of the unraveling of Capitol Films, which was the most recent company to come aboard, says Biz.
Full story: http://www.hollywoodwiretap.com/?module=news&action=story&id=39374
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