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Fall Movie Pros & Cons: Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’

Fall Movie Pros & Cons: Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln'

A week into October, and fall movie season is firmly underway. The box office received a kick-start thanks to “Hotel Transylvania,” “Looper” and “Taken 2,” the Oscar contenders are starting to come into place thanks to “Argo,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Life Of Pi,” and festival screenings at Venice, Telluride, TIFF and the NYFF have provided looks at many of the films we’re going to be seeing on screens as the months get colder and the days get shorter.

But what of the unknown quantities — the high-profile fall and winter movies that we haven’t already taken a peek at Sundance, Cannes or any other festival? Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each of them in detail, setting forward why we hope they might be great, and why there might be reason to be cautious.

And to kick things off, where better than Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln,” which gets its unofficial premiere at the New York Film Festival tonight ahead of an official unveiling at the AFI Fest next month, before going into limited release on November 9th, and wider November 16th. Are you excited about Spielberg’s Daniel Day-Lewis-starring political epic? Or are you suspicious of it? Let us know in the comments section, and check back over the next two weeks for the rest of the big fall movies.


The Case For
Steven Spielberg‘s best film of the last decade (and arguably the best since “Schindler’s List“) was “Munich,” his 2005 film thriller about the Mossad agents sent to kill those responsible for the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich games. Sure, it lurches into misjudged sentiment in its final moments, but for the most part it was as difficult, grown-up, well-made and powerful a film as America’s favorite movie director has ever made. So the news that he’s teaming up again with Tony Kushner, the writer of that film (and of “Angels In America,” one of the great plays of the 20th century) for a biopic of Abraham Lincoln, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s acclaimed “Team Of Rivals,” felt like good news to us.

And that was even before it was revealed that Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most gifted actors of his generation, was on board to pay Lincoln. While some have quibbled over his voice in the trailers revealed so far, it’s got all the earmarks of being another powerful performance from the British heavyweight. And he’s not lacking in support, with Oscar-tipped roles from Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones among an extraordinary cast that also includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, David Strathairn, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, David Oyelowo, John Hawkes, Adam Driver and Walton Goggins, among others.

The decision to focus on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, as he fights to amend the constitution to permanently outlaw slavery, while also seeking a lasting peace with the Confederates, is a smart one, focusing the drama rather than trying to paint a broad portrait of the man. And with Spielberg’s usual team (DoP Janusz Kaminski, composer John Williams) in place, you can be sure that it’ll be technically impeccable.

The Case Against:
Spielberg’s never exactly shied from sentiment, and that was always the risk with “Lincoln.” We’ve been hoping that Kushner might balance that out — as he mostly did on “Munich,” but there are definitely moments in the most recent trailer which make us worry that the Bearded One is over-egging the pudding (the montage including Martin Luther King and 9/11, David Oyelowo seemingly suggesting the Gettysburg Address). Could we be heading for another treacly “War Horse“-type picture?

And the other risk is that the film goes the other way. The film’s creative team have been upfront about it being quite procedural in nature, focusing on the passing of legislation rather than more emotive elements. Again, footage so far suggests a film that involves a lot of middle aged men talking in rooms, which gave us flashbacks to “Amistad” more than anything else. We’d follow the cast almost anywhere, but it’s always possible that they’ll end up with something dry and stagey, targeted at wonks and history buffs more than anyone else. Given that the last non-vampire-related Lincoln movie, Robert Redford‘s “The Conspirator” almost put us into a coma of boredom despite an equally fine cast, we’re certainly a little cautious.

And it’s also worth noting that since “Munich,” Spielberg hasn’t been on great form — only three films in seven years, none of which (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull,” “The Adventures Of Tintin” and “War Horse”) were especially satisfying. Is there a risk that the great director has lost his mojo? Day-Lewis is coming off one ofthe few disappointing turns in his career, in “Nine,” too. We’ll find out which way the film turns out imminently: it premieres as the not-so-secret screening at the NYFF tonight. The Playlist will be in attendance, so we’ll have our thoughts for you in a few short hours.

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