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Steven Spielberg wants you to know that Lincoln is a “Very important film”

Every swell and crescendo of John Williams’ score and each silhouetted, portraitesque shot of Daniel Day Lewis tell you that Lincoln is “a very important film.”  The problem is, although Lincoln is a very good film, it’s not a great film.

Which is not to say that there are not great performances in the film.  Daniel Day Lewis gives yet another impressive performance portraying the American president while Tommy Lee Jones manages to steal almost every scene in which he appears.  But it’s not enough to overcome the film’s deficiencies.

The director bears most of the blame for Lincoln’s shortcomings.  When Spielberg is on, no one does a better job of telling stories.  From Jurassic Park and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, Spielberg uses nuance to introduce tension.  Who can forget the girl in the red dress in Schindler’s List or the ripples in a cup of water as the T-Rex approaches the car in Jurassic Park?  However, Lincoln lacks any sort of nuance or subtlety.  Every moment is an important moment, , every word is an important word, every speech is an important speech.

The lion’s share of the blame rests with Spielberg but John Williams’ score doesn’t help either.  His neo-Wagnerian melodies brought Darth Vader to life but here they either fall flat or overpower Lincoln’s own words.  The melancholic soundtrack of Schindler’s List, which underscored the enormity of the events, illustrated how a score can effectively serve the film.  Spielberg somehow forgot this lesson and tries to apply a Jurassic Park score to a story more similar to Schindler’s List.

The extraneous plot lines do the film no favors either.  Although Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performances this year in The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, not to mention in 2011’s 50/50, easily make him one of the most important actors to watch at this point in time, his role in Lincoln as the President’s oldest son, Robert, is a wasted performance.  It adds nothing to the story of the film, which basically revolves around the campaign to pass the 13th Amendment, and interrupts the main action with irrelevant action.

One final note about Lincoln.  Although I think Spielberg missed an opportunity to create a great movie instead of the simply good movie that Lincoln is, watching the story play out on the big screen does introduce one important idea.  In The Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent says “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  Watching Lincoln deal with the severed union and the slavery issue, it becomes obvious why he’s considered one of our greatest presidents.  At the same time, his death immediately on the heels of the Civil War’s conclusion and the fact that he didn’t have to deal with all the bad blood and internecine conflict that continue to plague the US as a result of Reconstruction, allowed him to remain a hero.  Without going into Reconstruction, Spielberg does a good job of illustrating this point.  This is part of what makes the film so good.  But the myriad of weaknesses prevent it from being great.


Homeland only deserved one season…but not for the reason you think

Although enjoyable, the second season of Homeland is an exercise in futility.  It’s entertaining.  It helps fill the national security porn void left when 24 ended.  But it’s entirely unnecessary.

The first season of Homeland perfectly summed up the ambiguity inherent to both intelligence work and the national security apparatus.  Success means either not knowing what was avoided or knowing but not being able to talk about it.  Homeland not only brought this ambiguity to life, it thrived within it.  As the first season ends with Carrie’s decision to undergo electroshock treatment, she does so believing that she prevented a terrorist attack but unable to confirm it.  When added to every other setback she encounters in the last two episodes, the ambiguity becomes too much to bear and pushes her over the edge.  She may have saved the Vice President and other senior government officials gathered in that room but she’ll never know for sure.

Well, until the next season, that is.  The ambiguity is lost when Carrie learns of the recording made by Brody and once again has her infallibility confirmed.  She may not have her job back, she may not have overcome her bipolar disorder but she knows she was right and that’s enough to reconfirm her essential self-worth and self-confidence.  However, not only does this make her less believable as a character, it also creates issues for the universe in which Homeland exists.

Unlike 24, which was based in the premise that a benevolent national security apparatus championed by ultimately moral people could overcome any and all challenges, Homeland presented a flawed intelligence organization made up of flawed people that, despite the ambiguity inherent in their jobs, managed to prevent their country from being harmed.  This was a CIA for a world of terrorists and drone strikes, a CIA that made sense within the same entertainment universe as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.  In this universe, the good guys and the bad guys were sometimes indistinguishable and even the hero was forced to make morally questionable decisions.

Homeland should have ended with one season and all the ambiguity that entails.  The ambiguity perfectly illustrated the lack of clarity that exists for all intelligence and national security professionals.  Taking it away was a disservice to the show and its viewers.