‘Lincoln’ Trailer Premiere Catalyzes Oscar Chatter And Speculation
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
This past Thursday, Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levitt appeared together in a Google+ Hangout to premiere the trailer of their new film Lincoln and to chat with a few lucky fans. The event seems to be the first major advertising push for the movie, whose marketing, until now, has been limited to a few stills and a simple poster. Expect the movie’s advertising to only become more insistent in the weeks leading up to its Nov. 16 release, as DreamWorks begins to spread the word and set the movie up for Oscar success.
It’s easy to look at Lincoln and see the quintessential “Oscar bait” movie. You could even make a checklist out of it, ticking off all the features that typically get the Academy excited. Explicitly “serious” subject matter? Check. A dramatic lead performance depicting a celebrated historical figure? Check. A cast including big-name veterans (Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones), seasoned character actors (Sally Field, David Strathairn, John Hawkes) and upcoming stars (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) all working together? Check, check, and check. Not to mention the presence of perennial Oscar favorite Spielberg in the director’s chair.
It’s undeniable that commercial calculation on the part of the studios plays a big role whenever Oscar season rolls around. Some films seem tailor-made to push the Academy’s buttons and rake in awards, even if no one feels particularly passionate about them (I’m looking at you, The King’s Speech). All too often, such movies take recognition away from riskier efforts and serve as bland consensus picks. The whole situation reminds me of something that film critic Matthew Zoller Seitz said on Twitter back in February: “Best Picture should be renamed Well-Made Movie We Didn’t Hate.”
It’s quite possible that Lincoln will be merely another Well-Made Movie The Academy Didn’t Hate, but despite the warning signs, I remain optimistic for it to be something more. One thing that Spielberg stressed during the Google chat was his desire to depict Lincoln as a real man and a working president, not the idealized legend that he would become. To that end, the film focuses on a small section of Lincoln’s presidency: the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment during the final months of the Civil War. This tight focus is promising: Too many biopics attempt a sprawling overview of the subject’s life, and end up feeling like CliffsNotes summaries rather than coherent visions. But by isolating the most trying period of Lincoln’s life, this film seems poised to offer a more detailed look at the trials of leadership.
Furthermore, if anyone can pull off the feat of making Lincoln a believably human character, surely it’s Daniel Day-Lewis. The man is the real deal: even disregarding his famously intense methods for total character immersion, his performances speak for themselves. From his breakthrough role playing a disabled artist in My Left Foot to his terrifying turn as an oil-and-milkshake hungry tyrant in There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis has proven his reputation as one of our finest actors. Lincoln offers DDL the challenge of playing a man who has been researched and examined from every possible angle, a man who adorns our pennies and has become literally and figuratively a national monument. He’s an endlessly fascinating and inexhaustible character, and I’m eager to see how Day-Lewis’s performance will cut to the core of Lincoln the man.
Finally, there’s Spielberg. I confess to having a sentimental attachment to his work, as 7-year-old me first fell in love with movies because of classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. Many will argue that Spielberg is currently on a losing streak after the abysmal fourth Indiana Jones movie, the light Tintin and the forgettable War Horse. But Lincoln may just turn things around, engaging Spielberg with a narrative of historical magnitude and arguably the best ensemble cast he’s ever worked with—not to mention the script by the acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner, which is itself based on the superb Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals. The movie has quite the pedigree and the ingredients are all there: Let’s hope Spielberg can pull it all together. And if not? Well, maybe I’ll console myself by finally checking out Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.