Reviews: Lincoln, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg knows how to make an epic movie infused with an intimate feel. With Lincoln, he has accomplished that goal while showing us that the nasty in-fighting of American party politics is not restricted to the modern era.
Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, with a screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), the film highlights the final four months of Lincoln’s life. He was in a hell of a political battle even as the bloody Civil War was still painfully winding down.
Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) was determined to find the votes to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (the abolition of slavery) despite an angry, defiant Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and members of his own Republican Party who didn’t want to make such a radical move. The people were concerned about the consequences of freed slaves as newly minted citizens, rather than chattel.
While the centerpiece of the film is the political battle, the film provides a rounded picture of Lincoln the man as a loving father to both a young son (Gulliver McGrath) and an older one (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); as a husband with a marriage beset by tragedy (Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln); as a fabled storyteller who still retains his backwoods lawyer persona; as a president during a devastating war; and as the most powerful man in the country determined to wield that power.
There is a lot of humor in this historical drama, much of it provided by the 1865 version of lobbyists (played by the delightful trio of James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes), who are pulling out every dirty trick — patronage jobs, blackmail — to get the votes Lincoln needs to change the face of the nation.
Surrounded by a cast full of familiar faces (David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Gloria Reuben, Michael Stuhlbarg), Day-Lewis gives a performance worthy of the legendary statesman. This is the Lincoln we’ve learned about in school — gentle yet forceful when needed, brilliant as a politician and sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of family when he must focus on being the president of a nation divided.
Spielberg and Kushner, with a terrific ensemble, have done Lincoln proud.
Lincoln 3.5 Stars
Directed by Steven Spielberg; rated PG-13
Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi, is a mash up of fable, religious allegory, visual 3D feast, Animal Planet special, drama and comedy. How much you buy into these various elements will determine your level of enjoyment. Personally, I was hooked by the reluctant partnership of man and Bengal tiger and the splendid visuals. A teenage Hindu boy (Suraj Sharma) is lost at sea when a ship carrying zoo animals sinks, and winds up on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The heart of the film is how these two come to realize that each needs the other for survival. There are numerous heart wrenching moments and even moments of humor in this beautiful fable, but to be honest there are also moments of boredom in the set-up before getting to the enchanting part of the story.
Life of Pi 3 Stars
Directed by Ang Lee; rated PG
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Latest ‘Hobbit’ adventure is a bit on the cute side .
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