Sunday, May 19, 2013

Climbing To God (well no wonder)














I saw the crowd getting out from the previous showing.  The first group was a young couple.  "That was pretty good," the guy said to his girlfriend.

The next couple that walked by me was maybe 45 to 50.  The husband turned to his wife and just shrugged his shoulders.  It was a nonverbal;  "I don't know?  What did you think?"

The next and last group that came out were in their late 60s, I would guess.  3 couples.

"Wow.  That was the worst movie."

"That has to be one of the worst films ever or I just didn't get it."

"There is no way we could have known how bad that would be."

Such is the nature of a Terrence Malick film.  My favorite filmmaker.

I laughed to myself and walked in with high anticipation to see his latest; "To The Wonder."

There has probably never been an audience for a Malick film (at least in his "later" period) that came out and all agreed how great the film was.   But, there is probably often that one person who is also quite captivated.  I am that one person when I go see his movies.

I was actually the only person in the theater at my 9:45pm showing.  And what I saw, while not quite to the lofty heights of some previous Malick films, was still for me a great and enjoyable movie going experience.  One that is also fairly easy to understand in my opinion.  While still being the type of work that can generate meaningful discussion

Love him or hate him Malick is a legendary director.  One that audiences do not flock to but many critics get excited about.  With "To The Wonder," the critics have not been kind.  And to some extent, I don't understand it.  I know Malick isn't for everyone.  I know even as he won the Palme d 'Or for his last film, "The Tree of Life," people also booed it at Cannes after its screening.  He is divisive.  Very.

But I think there is something more to the derision by critics this time around.  And it is something he has been hitting on in every film since his first.  It is God.

But this time God is loud and clear and its hard to argue its a Christian God and no other.  And I think for critics that was finally too much.

This is a film, overtly Christian enough, I feel church groups could get parishioners together to go see it.  The reason that hasn't or will not ever happen is because:

A:  Its an "art film,"   (see the comments of the last couples above)
B:  Its got sex it in.

The sex part is possibly interesting, being church congregations went in mass to see the extreme violence of "The Passion of The Christ."  But I understand. 

I don't remember sex scenes in any other Malick film.  They give it its R rating, which unlike the well deserved R for "The Passion Of The Christ," here feels a bit silly.  I can't think of a tamer R rated film.

Those scenes are not remotely gratuitous   They help tell a story of a relationship.  And the most loving sex we see in the film, is after the couple has gotten married.  Not before.  I am not the only one who noticed this.

Film critic for The New Yorker, David Denby: "We don’t need to be chastised with the ideal of Christian love to understand that sex isn’t enough.”

Huh?

Critics have called the film shallow; which feels to me like the very last thing it is.  It's only a thin film if you don't like the message.  Which most of them interestingly enough don't mention.  This is like reviewing "Friday The 13th," and not mentioning its intended to be scary.

Is an overt Christian message by definition, a thin one?  This is what they seem to be saying.














As far as the film itself.  I loved it.   I continue to have both an understanding of why people don't like Malick films, as well as an "How do they not like this guy's work?" kind of attitude.

I was worried when I heard Ben Affleck was cast (Christian Bale was the original choice).  But he is fine for what and who he is meant to be and represent in my opinion.  The true accolades for the actors must go to the non American members of the cast.  Olga Kurylenko as Marina; you can not take your eyes off her.  And my favorite performance is by Javier Bardem as a priest who feels far away from God.

As far as settings go, Mont St. Michael is a wonderful choice.














This is the "Wonder" of the title.  Or at least one of them.  The early scenes there between Marina and Neil seem to set the stage for everything that comes after.

Once back in America, Neil works as a type of geologist/environmental advocate, taking soil samples of the contaminated neighborhood near his own home.  The worried locals, in one scene start following him down the street as if he were literally their savior.  Contrast this to Neil and Marina jumping lightly on the mud surrounding Mont St. Michael.  It seems a bit perilous and indeed that area is in fact dangerous.  But they never fall through.  Back in the States, Neil struggles to climb a high mound of dirt, which signifies all of his ongoing struggles at the time, as well as contrasting their earlier "climbing the steps to the wonder."  

In fact steps and stairs are a recurring theme.

You might be reminded of Jacob's steps.  His stairway or ladder to Heaven.

Later, we see Neil looking up the stairs of the home he shares with Marina.  Looking for her as she looks down from above.  Neither really wanting to be seen by the other.

Marina being above Neil is not happenstance.  Marina seems on a higher spiritual plane; maybe than anyone in the film.  Though I argue Bardem's preist, is a sympathetic  portrayal.   Something actually rare in movies.


Amongst all the classical music and hushed tones is the fact that most of the time these actors are constantly moving.

Something I felt was intentional became reinforced to me by Bilge Ibiri.  His theory being "To The Wonder," is really a ballet.


"He wanted his films to break free of typical narrative methods and to adopt a more musical style of discourse.  Malick seemed to achieve that with the movement-based structure of The Tree of Life.  There, what we were seeing and hearing on screen seemed more often to correlate to the meter of a symphonic movement than to the typical narrative "acts" of a film."  (1)
















Even when people are not moving fast like Marina, the movements do feel intentional and even akin to dance.  As in the scene where Neil and Jane (Rachel McAdams) are out amongst the Bison.  Neil and Jane have deliberate head movements.  Jane looks everywhere she can but at Neil.  Once she finally does look at Neil she quickly averts her gaze, as if she just looked at the sun.  It is just one example of literal physical movement telling the story.


The beach as afterlife in "The Tree of Life," might help us better look at this film as well.










This is in many ways the smallest Malick film in scope.  And yet there is a lot here to ruminate on and enjoy if one goes into it with the right state of mind.












I believe the reputation of this film (like "The New World" and "The Thin Red Line") will improve over time.

If Malick or this specific film, isn't your thing, I'm ok with that.

But if its something more.  If a film concerning God isn't your thing, then let us be honest about that.  It does not seem so obvious until you never mention the themes in the first place.

(1)  http://ebiri.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/to-wonder-i-write-on-water-things-i.html


(2)  I almost did not write anything on this film, because I see there are more than a few very strong pieces written on it already.  For a very strong piece on the film, read Jugu Abraham's review, linked below.

Though I might suggest you read only after you have seen the film.

http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.in/2013/04/144-us-director-terrence-malicks-sixth.html



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Greatest Films of 2011

In looking at the films of 2012, I thought it was a pretty good year for movies.  Maybe a very good year even.  Certainly better than the year before.  But, ok, once I looked again, maybe not. 

2012 was great for the number of strong films.  But those few films that did it right in 2011, did it very right.  We have a quantity versus quality debate in comparing the last two years.  Any of the following films were greater to me, than my #1 of 2012 (which I will continue to defend as a great film). 

My favorite film of 2011 was "The Tree of Life."  But I talk about Malick enough.  4, 3,2 are all legitimate masterpeices. 


4.  "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia"   (Released Jan 4, 2012 in the USA)  But out long before just about everywhere else.

Not unlike #3, it goes at its own pace.  But it is a very rewarding experience.  Men take a murderer on an all night journey to locate a body. But we know who did the crime from the beginning.  Its the journey where insights into each character slowly reveal themselves, that make the film.  And one fact about the crime that makes for some good talking points after.   



3. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

The Anti-Bond is George Smiley.  Smiley won't be bedding multiple women before shotting the bad guy.  I am not even sure he ever holds a gun.  What we have here is a taut, intriguing, well acted and directed spy film.   

2.  "Drive"

I saw it a second time not too long ago and think I enjoyed it even more.  Imagine John Hughes hired Michael Mann to direct a violent yet romantic, touching yet disturbing anti-hero story.  The film would fit perfectly into 1983 America.  The ode to that time period in film is done expertly.  Ryan Gosling deserves to be recognized for more than his good looks.  He is a very strong actor.

Nicolas Winding Refnwould won Best Director honors at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  Maybe its time to debate how often Cannes gets things right versus the Academy Awards.       




Sunday, February 24, 2013

If I Picked The Oscars

Best Picture:

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Lincoln"
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"
"Amour"
"Django Unchained"
"Argo"

WILL WIN:   "Argo"
SHOULD WIN:  "Les Miserables"

"Lincoln" has best chance to upset "Argo."  Don't care that Affleck is not nominated.  It will win, in part for that exact reason.

Best Supporting Actor:

Christoph Waltz                "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman  "The Master"
Robert DeNiro                   "Silver Linings Playbook"
Alan Arkin                         "Argo"
Tommy Lee Jones              "Lincoln"


WILL WIN:                        Tommy Lee Jones
SHOULD WIN:                  Christoph Waltz    (followed closely by Hoffman)

Best Supporting Actress: 

Sally Field                          "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway                  "Les Miserables"
Jacki Weaver                      "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Hunt                         "The Sessions"
Amy Adams                       "The Master"

WILL WIN:                        Anne Hathaway
SHOULD WIN:                  Anne Hathaway  (followed closely by Sally Field)
        
Best Director:

Steven Spielberg                 "Lincoln"
Michael Haneke                  "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin                        "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
David O. Russell                 "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ang Lee                               "Life of Pi"

WILL WIN                         Steven Spielberg
SHOULD WIN                   Ang Lee  (Actually anyone but Spielberg)

Best Actor:                         

Daniel Day Lewis             "Lincoln"
Denzel Washington           "Flight"
Hugh Jackman                   "Les Miserables"
Bradley Cooper                 "Silver Linings Playbook"
Joaquin Phoenix                "The Master"                  

WILL WIN                         Daniel Day Lewis 
SHOULD WIN                   Daniel Day Lewis

Jackman seems to be the dark horse here for having a shot at an upset.  I'd be okay with that.  But I was quite impressed with Bradley Cooper.  Did anyone else notice he would do a very subtle DeNiro impression at times?  As if he was playing DeNiro's son?  He impressed me and I hope its not a one time thing

Best Actress:                      

Naomi Watts                      "The Impossible"
Jessica Chastain                 "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence             "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva              "Amour"
Quvenhane Wallis             "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

WILL WIN                         Jennifer Lawrence
SHOULD WIN                   Emmanuelle Riva

Chastain seems to have the best shot besides Lawrence.  But I think the ridiculous backlash against "Zero Dark Thirty," might hurt her. 

Best Original Screenplay: 

Quentin Tarantino:                                          "Django Unchained"
 Michael Haneke                                             "Amour"  
John Gatins                                                     "Flight"
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola               "Moonrise Kingdom" 
Zero Dark Theory                                            "Mark Boal"

WILL WIN                          Quentin Tarantino
SHOULD WIN                   Anyone but Gatins feels worthy

Why Tarantino won't win:  Too rough of material
Why he will:  Oscar voters are getting younger. The material is controversial, but QT is overdue.  I think the controversy of "Zero Dark Theory," will hurt Boal just enough

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Chris Terrio                                     "Argo"
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin         "Beasts of the Southern Wild"    
David Magee                                   "Life of Pi"    
Tony Kushner                                 "Lincoln"
David O. Russell                             "Silver Linings Playbook"

WILL WIN                                      Tony Kushner
SHOULD WIN                                Magee followed by Russell 

Best Cinematography                      

WILL WIN                 "Life of Pi"    (because people don't understand Cinematography)   But hey it looks great.  No tragedy

Best Original Song

WILL WIN                 Adele  "SkyFall"

     


 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best Films of 2012

This year was a difficult one for me to review.  I do not know if it is because no one film just totally wowed me above all else and became one of my all time favorites, or its the fact that there were actually a lot of high level films this year.  Coming up with the "best" seems rather difficult.  I not only think I will look back on this list next year and go "wow I was WAY off!"  I think I will probably look on this list tomorrow and think the same thing.

But hey why not, here is my take on the (15) best films (of the ones I saw) of 2012


15.  "Looper"

Time travel done in a way you have not quite see it before.  While parts of the film are utterly implausible, the filmmakers chose to do their best in addressing the normal time travel problems.


14. "This Must Be The Place"

Imagine Robert Smith of The Cure just lived in Ireland with his loyal wife and never made music anymore.  Now imagine he still looked like Robert Smith of The Cure every moment.  Going to the grocery store, diner, playing ping pong.

"This Must Be The Place" is far from a perfect film.  But it is original and Penn's performance makes it a film worth seeing.  It is a tricky thing to pull off as well as he does.  What could have been a tragedy of annoying caricature, turns out to be a truly touching and affecting performance.  One of Penn's best moments.     


13.  "Argo"

Now let me start with this.  "Argo" is a strong film.  Ben Affleck's career is definitely headed back in the right direction since he focused on directing.  The film has a very strong opening, pretty solid ending and ok middle.  It deserves a level of praise.  Having said that, I remember walking out thinking, "that's it?"  I try not to go into a film with high expectations, but this film has seemed to get such universal acclaim, I was pretty sure it would be great.  But for me, it cant quite get itself above "very good."  No shame in that at all, but I just don't understand all the critical love.

I think part of the problem is in who Affleck's character is working on saving.  Six Americans who escaped the embassy in Iran when it was overrun.  They end up hiding out in a rather posh home of the Canadian Ambassador in Iran.  We see scenes of how bad the Americans who did not escape the embassy in time, have it.  A lot worse than those who did.  This is not to say they did not deserve to get out of the country.  People were quite intent on hurting them, if they figured out where they were.  But Affleck never makes us love these people, and thus care much about them.  He seemed to believe the mere fact they were Americans in trouble would be enough.  It goes a long way.  But it is not enough.  Especially when mostly the impression of the 6 are of ungrateful, even spoiled people.

My other complaint might be in Affleck casting himself in the lead.  Affleck is fine in the role.  I am not here to complain about his acting skills.  How bad he has sometimes been has been more in miscasting than anything.  But he also is well...not exactly Gary Oldman.  Or Hugh Jackman or Daniel Day Lewis or Denzel Washington.  Seems like a story like this would have attracted just about any leading man.  And having someone more resemble the actual Tony Mendez, a half Mexican who seems a few pounds overweight from pictures at the time, as well as shorter and less Hollywood CIA looking; might have helped the film achieve something higher.

"Argo" is a solid film and a nice step up for Affleck.  But it is too soon to hail him king just yet.

12.   "Flight"

The opening sequence of "Flight" is pretty awesome film making.  The crash sequence is the most realistic feeling, intense, plane crash scene I have seen since "Cast Away."  Which happens to be the last live action film, before this one, by Robert Zemeckis.

"Flight" is similar in many ways to "Cast Away" actually.  Denzel Washington gives a predictably great performance.  As does just about everyone in the film.  The most interesting maybe being Kelly Reilly.  Unfortunately the 3rd act, while parts of it are great (grabbing a bottle of liquor is rarely so well filmed) becomes just a bit too much of a public service announcement.  And who figured when you get in a jam, the best solution is:  snort cocaine? 

11.      "The Beasts of The Southern Wild"

This is one of those films I can't decide about.  Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Hey its  #11 on my list for crying out loud!

The story is interesting if not a bit manipulative.  The director probably would have put onions in the air vents if he thought it would help the audience cry.  And he succeeds. 

But the reason I was touched as much as anything in the story, was the performances he gets out of the two leads.  6 year old Quvenzhan√© Wallis as Hushpuppy and Dwight Henry as her father.  Neither had ever acted before. 

A sign of a good director is the performances they get out of their actors.  So on that note, this is a very well directed film.  While every scene might not work, it is still touching and often original.  More often than it is not.


10.   "Django Unchained"

Leave it to Tarantino.  There is no film I saw this year that has more brilliant moments in it than "Django Unchained."  But I have yet to decide if the whole equals the sum of its parts.  It is the most difficult film to sit through QT has ever made.  And he made "Reservoir Dogs." 

Much has been made of the over 100 times we hear the "N-word."  I do not find this to be a fair criticism of QT, as its fairly easy to assume this is realistic.  But realistic does not make it easier to sit through.  Neither does the violence.  Usually the violence QT shows is for comedic effect or for people who had it coming.  There are 2 scenes in particular in "Django" that this is not the case.  But this also shows the horrors of slavery as well as helps flip a switch in one character, from which he can not return.

Whether it is directing, casting, his dialogue or all three; Tarantino has only ever gotten a weak acting performance out of Tarantino.  Dicaprio has never been better.  Waltz, who won an Oscar for his last Tarantino film, gets another nomination here, and he deserves it.  And the most brave performance is by Samuel L. Jackson.  I imagine many people would have turned down this role.  The Oscars would not have dared given his role a nomination with a ten foot pole.  In a way, he is the most despicable villain of all.  But Jackson, a former Black Panther, knew it was a role worth taking.  It is a brave choice and a brave choice for Tarantino to write in the first place.  This is tricky material, easily open to criticism by the likes of the racist Spike Lee.

But its not just a slave kicking racist ass that is empowering.  Tarantino uses his humor to specifically attack the KKK by way of almost a Looney Tunes sketch.  It is extremely funny, while also about as big a middle finger to the Klan I have seen.


As much as I think of parts of "Django" in such high regard, it does not feel completely finished.  Maybe this is because it is the first film QT has made without editor Sally Menke (she died shortly before filming).  QT would often talk of them as a team.  As in stating the opening scene of  "Inglorious Basterds" is the best thing we have ever done."  QT is a rather brilliant director.  But he needs to find another brilliant editor.


9.  "The Impossible"

Don't watch the trailer!  If you have seen the trailer for this film, you have pretty much seen the film.  But no, the film is still worth watching, even if you know all that will happen.  Naomi Watts is great and gets deserved praise for the role.  All the children are equally good as well.  But it is actually Ewan McGregor who is the best thing about the film.  He pulls off one of the most effective phone calls I have ever seen.

It's a simple story.  But a true one and a touching and sad one.  Nice almost subtle touches by the director elevate it above what it would have been.

8.  "Silver Linings Playbook"

One of the most fun and entertaining films of the year.  It doesn't hurt the performances are so good.  Who knew Bradley Cooper had these acting chops?  Jennifer Lawrence has shown skills before and is the perfect bi-polar foil to Cooper.  We knew Robert Deniro could act, but he hasn't reminded us of that fact very much in the last 20 years.

Fun, layered.  All date films should be this well done.



7.  "Life of Pi"

See it with a few friends.  A story well told, that gets you talking afterwards.

6.  "Moonrise Kingdom"



5.  "Amour"

The scariest film of all.  Because people age.  These things happen.  They might happen to us.  Not something you want to think much about usually, when watching a movie. 

Entertaining?  Depends how you look at it.  Great performances?  Check.  Great directing choices?  Absolutely.  A piece of art?  That's fair.  A fun time to be had by all?  Well...no.

Which raises an interesting, great art versus entertainment question.  Usually great art to me is entertainment.  And something as wanting to merely entertain, as a Bond film, can achieve something that feels akin to art if done well enough. 

Which leads to...

4. "Skyfall"

Ok.  Maybe it's not art.  But this is the Bond film I have always been waiting for.  You can still have Bond get out of an impossible situation and immediately fix his cuffs. But this is not campy Bond.  This is exciting and semi believable (as much as Bond could ever be).  Judi Dench as M, has practically as much screen time as Daniel Craig.  It is her and Bond's relationship that elevates the film.  And Javier Bardem is one of the best Bond villains ever.  Easily the best since the days of Connery.  Sam Mendes might have made the (overrated) Oscar winning, "American Beauty."  But this is his best film.

Oh and Adele's song is the best Bond theme since "Live and Let Die."  Can that girl do any wrong right now?


3.  "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower"

See my post below.  This is the best kind of high school teen angst film.  Having read the book after, it was interesting to see how the director (who is also the author and script writer) made changes here and there.  I think the changes were good choices.  I liked the film much more than the book.


2.  "Zero Dark Thirty"

It is quite an achievement when you end a film with a sequence which everyone knows how it will end; and yet it is still edge of your seat gripping entertainment.  The end sequence takes 18 minutes, just the same length of time the raid actually lasted.  It follows just as it happened, as best as we know.  Jessica Chastain's constant strong resilience make the very last shot all the more effective. 

As good as "Argo" is, this is the far superior CIA/Terrorists related film.  The people who give out awards right now are letting personal feelings  get in the way, and it's a shame.  This is a balanced film.  I have a hard time believing all the detractors against it showing '"torture" have seen the film.

1.  "Les Miserables"

Go ahead, scoff!   A musical?!  A few years ago, Hollywood was so wanting to give out awards to any musical, it gave the pretty bad "Chicago" a ton of awards, including the Best Picture Oscar.  Now I feel like they are doing a 180.  Not recognizing enough what an achievement this film is. 

Would this be #1 on my list if I had ever seen the musical before?  I don't know.  I would sometimes say "Oh, this song is from this?"  Is every singing performance the best vocals ever?  Probably not. 

Could Rex Harrison ever sing? 

But they have to be among the best acted.  Jackson is great.  Hathaway will probably win the Oscar and I would be more than fine with that.  Just great performance after great performance.  It might lag a bit here and there.  But never for too long.  People might have to fall in love a bit too quickly even by film standards.  It might be indeed far from perfect.  But this is a film meant to be enjoyed with an audience. 

While I am fine seeing almost any film in an otherwise empty theater, "Les Miserables" was a kind of communal enjoyment.  To be touched by a scene and hear a woman say "wow" a few rows over. 

Is it manipulative?  Absolutely.  So is "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and so is "Lincoln." 

In most films, that manipulation bothers me.  In this one, I just enjoyed the ride.

I left a few films in 2012 with that feeling that my feet were just an inch or so off the ground.

This was one of them.

  


Biggest Disappointments

The easy worst films that I saw would be "Wanderlust" and "This Means War."  But I didn't have much high expectations for those either.  I at least went in expecting more of the following:


"The Master"

"The Master" is not the worst film of the year.  But it is the most disappointing.  The acting is all solid and I would even be fine with someone winning an acting Oscar.  There are also moments of greatness.  The scene where Hoffman goes through his auditing process with Phoenix is one of the best scenes of any film all year.  If only the rest of the film could have been near that high level.

As it is, it is a whole bunch of fury, signifying very little.  Critics who love it say what it is about is irrelevant (cuz they don't know either).  And I agree.  A film is not about what it is about but how it is about it.  But how "The Master" is about itself, is a rather nonsensical mess with no true narrative.  And at the end of the day, you still need a narrative.  As big a deal as Paul Thomas Anderson has become as a filmmaker, this script was rejected and reworked for years.  They should have given it a few more years to get it right.

"Hitchcock"

Not a bad film.  But when you have Anthony Hopkins playing Alfred Hitchcock, you want a great one.  And its far from it.


"This is 40"

Judd Apatow.  I just realized,  I guess I just am not much of a fan of yours.  I joked to friends it should have been called "This is 40 Minutes Too Long."  There are some good performances, notably by Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Jason Segal.  But these are not the lead characters.  And no Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are not bad in the lead roles, they are just kind of dull.  The script meanders and really never goes anywhere.  I saw 2 clips in the trailer that I thought were funny.  Neither made it into the finished film.  Apatow had wayyy to much footage.  Could have been a great 30 minute short film.  As it was, I was just waiting for it to end.  It never seemed like it would.  Not what you want for 9 dollar ticket plus price of popcorn.


"Lincoln"

I can forgive historical inaccuracies if they have a purpose.  It is, after all, a movie.

I am fairly certain people in Revolution Era France did not sing every conversation.

But sometimes a director is a little too obvious in making his point.  Subtlety has no always been Spielberg's strong suit.  Basking Lincoln in light where he looks like an angel, from the first scene we see the president, is one example.  Easily forgivable if he didn't keep going back to it. 

The black soldier drowning a confederate soldier in the opening scene is not subtle.  I fully get that black soldiers fought in the war.  That in "Lincoln," the black soldiers appear to make up 80% of the Union Army, seems a bit much.  That it is a bunch of black Union soldiers greeting the Southern Representatives looking to negotiate peace, seems like it would have to be true to be in the film, it is so unbelievable.  Turns out it didn't happen.  Which shows the points Spielberg did not trust his audience to get on their own. 

Daniel Day Lewis is unsurprisingly very good in the lead role.  I am not sure anyone could have done better.  Most all of the performances are strong.  But the film these fine actors are in, is not worthy of them.  And it is mostly Spielberg's fault. 

The script is far from perfect.  But I think it is the ridiculous first moment we see President Lincoln that bothered me the most.  Critic's who complain for the over the top nature of "Les Miserables," should not get allowed to ignore the ridiculousness of this moment. 

As much as the story is oversimplified:  Lincoln and his supporters non-racist.  The South and everyone who doesn't support Lincoln; racist.  This was a mistake in the filmmakers thinking this would make the film simpler to digest. 

In reality, Lincoln was a man that while he might have felt slavery was wrong; there is strong evidence to suggest (his own words) he also felt black people were inferior.  This dichotomy would have made for a much more interesting main character; albeit one that maybe would not have been bathed in light on the few occasions the cinematographer gives us any at all.

At one point Lincoln tells his black servant, "I don't know your people."  It is the most honest and one of the best written moments in the film.  But it is not enough.  Instead we get a Gandhi like man; when the reality of the man and what he accomplished in becoming this saint like figure, would have been a far more interesting, as well as honest depiction. 

By ignoring such honesty's, Spielberg becomes guilty of the worst movie sin of all.  The film is often just boring.