Capsule Review: Argo v Lincoln

My “beef” with Argo lies with the fact that the action seems to stall midpoint in the film. Somehow, the plot point that leads Ben Affleck into Iraq should have been expanded to find someone else to go with him. If this was a documentary, then there would be no question that the narrative leads us into a fairly narrow focus. The lead CIA character is sent to remove the hostages.
But films are meant to entertain, and the second part of this film is short on entertainment value. If the John Goodman or Alan Arkin characters were allowed to contribute more than an odd moment where they are seen talking on the telephone, it might have moved the action along at a different pace.
As it is, we are immersed in the twists and turns of maneuvering people and luggage through the Iranian airport and also driving to an fro in a mini-van, but it’s not quite enough. We aren’t allowed to buy in to the characters with any kind of emotional hook.
The action occurs and you are there. But something seems to be missing.
In Lincoln, all of the trappings of a Spielberg-esque movie apply here. There is some sentimentality attached to the images of Lincoln, but more than that, the iconic pictures we have seen in the famous Civil War photographs made by Matthew Brady are depicted here with unerring accuracy. Young Tad and his father, President Lincoln, are seen looking at a book together. The pose is strikingly familiar. Tad is shown in a mock-up of a soldiers uniform, playing with his toy troops. These are the images that bring the film to life.
Sally Field also manages to craft the impossible. We see a portrait of Mrs. Lincoln that is neither overly sentimental or alarmingly cute-sy. She is allowed to speak her case, warts, baggage and all, and we see a side of a woman in torment and pain, but with courage and humor and dignity that is often missing when she is portrayed.
The details of the movie’s focus, the passage of the 13th amendment, threaten to weigh down the plot at times. There is an attempt at comic relief in the character of James Spader and company. They are the representatives of a corrupt breed of back-door dealmakers that have never left the Washington scene.
But the movie is held together by Daniel Day Lewis. Someone remarked that what we are watching in his performance sets the standard for the new ideal of Lincoln and that seems accurate. It was said that Lincoln spoke in a high, nasal pitched voice that seemed hard to imagine in such a tall, raw-boned man.
But Mr. Lewis nails it completely. Not only does he re-create the voice, but the essence of the man himself is shown in his multi-layered character. This is the Lincoln who used humor to negotiate with his enemies, the man who was a wheeler-dealer at heart and was,in the end, a brilliant and complex individual. This is the portrait we see that undoubtedly stands the test of time.

Argo doesn’t seem to be a memorable picture. Lincoln is one for the ages.

Published by

MLJ

Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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