UPDATE: Comics Grinder review is here.
Steven Spielberg is a really nice guy who likes to make big movies that make bold statements. That is an oversimplication but, more or less, true. So, now he’s taken on America’s biggest legend, Abraham Lincoln. And why is that? It’s always a good question to ask about a creator regarding his or her work: “Why are you doing this?” Well, back to the idea that Mr. Spielberg enjoys big things that go, “Boom!” It is, after all, the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War that has unfolded upon us.
“Lincoln” will feel like the greatest, maybe even the ultimate tribute, that can be bestowed upon the 16th President of the United States of America. It’s based on a wonderful biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin and the final screenplay was written by Tony Kushner, for crying out loud. And, yes, it’s got a stellar cast including, of course, the greatest actor that ever lived, Daniel Day-Lewis. The problem with having a “greatest actor of all time” sort of actor playing the role of such a colossal hisorical figure, known by everyone residing on planet Earth, is that it has nowhere to go but down!
It will be fascinating. It will be great. But it will mostly be a spectacle much in the way that Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher in, “The Iron Lady,” was good solid entertainment but not exactly soul enriching. Okay, maybe it was great but you can find other Streep performances that go deeper, that’s what I’m saying.
Or consider Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States of America. In “Frost/Nixon,” the movie version of the highly successful play, both written by Peter Morgan, you get a finely studied, wonderfully acted, interpretation of what it is was like for the beleaguered former leader of the free world as he tried to set the record straight on his involvement in a very stupid political scandal, at the mercy of an entertainer/journalist. This is a fascinating story and, because of its quality, you are able to let go of any distractions about whether or not you’re viewing an event or a movie. I mean, Frank Langella doesn’t really look like Nixon but we don’t care. We accept his interpretation. So, in this case, everything comes out feeling meant to be.
And this bring me to one of the most authentic performances of Abraham Lincoln you’re ever going to find, John Ford’s, “Young Mr. Lincoln.” In this case, we have a director who is deeply in love with, and well versed in, the American landscape, particularly the development of the American frontier. John Ford was around at a time when he could literally reach back to America’s early history. He was able, for instance, to get recollections, or inspiring tall tales, from Wyatt Earp about the famous last gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which was the basis for Ford’s mesmerizing ”My Darling Clementine.” Mr. Ford lived and breathed the Wild West and American folklore. He was a tough guy who knew what he wanted to do. In that respect, not to mention a beautiful performance by Henry Fonda, and a magical feel for storytelling, makes “Young Mr. Lincoln” a film that you won’t mistake for anything but an excellent cinematic experience.