AFI Festival’s Closing Night Premiere of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’

Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg (Getty Images/AFP/File, Kevin Winter)

Before I share my thoughts on Lincoln, the movie, let me take a moment to comment on the experience of attending a red carpet Hollywood premiere of a Steven Spielberg production, simply because it was so surreal, thrilling and awe-inspiring. Yes, I’m gushing. I’ve attended movie premieres before, in D.C. and at Sundance, but like attempting to relate to Laird Hamilton when the biggest wave you’ve surfed is a six-footer, the comparison is weak at best.

I arrived at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Photographers, reporters, tourists, inquisitive passers-by, security guards with earpieces, shining white lights over the red carpet — it made for a scene. I navigated my way to the entrance, where I informed a guard I was a guest, and he escorted me past the velvet rope. Suddenly, I was thrust into the center of it all. The energy was undeniable (even Oprah was there) and I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. Curiouser and curiouser.

I entered the theater. Grauman’s is magnificent. Breathtaking. Pictures do not do it justice. Hosting the most premieres of any theater in the country, it seats 1,200 guests. As a historical Hollywood landmark, I highly recommend attending a movie here, should you ever get the chance.

Interior of Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Then, who introduced the film? None other than Spielberg himself. He received a standing ovation; the audience hadn’t even seen the film. But there was the sense that Hollywood had done it’s part in the re-election of President Obama. When the head of the AFI Festival, who introduced Spielberg, spoke of four more years, the theater erupted in applause. The very thing Lincoln had fought for, and lost his life because of, paved the way for Barack Obama’s presidency.

Now, about the show. Lincoln is a must-see, if only because it captures one of the most significant, most tumultuous periods in our young nation’s history and provides a meticulous portrayal of one of our greatest leaders.

I liked the film (but I liked War Horse better). I don’t think it’s Spielberg’s best, who at the introduction explained he wanted to give an up-close, honest and intimate portrait of Lincoln — the man — at a very specific moment in history, the passing of the 13th Amendment. There is where he succeeded, and perhaps failed.

The movie felt dry and pedantic at times, but I wonder if that’s because the film stayed so true to our 16th President. Lincoln was moderate, measured and moral, and these qualities don’t necessarily make for good theater. Plus, I’m not so enamored with the law and workings of Congress — I’ve dated an attorney and I’ve worked in Washington. There was no “You can’t handle the truth!” courtroom scene, vis-à-vis Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” and while Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and Sally Field gave tremendous performances, this was Lincoln’s stage.

I walked away thinking he was a wise man, a gentle man, a deeply contemplative and pragmatic man, who, in the pantheon of corrupt politics, did what he believed was right, and in the best interest of our country, despite populist beliefs.

“I have never done an official act with a view to promote my own personal aggrandizement, and I don’t like to begin now, I can see that time coming; whoever can wait for it, will see it, and whoever stands in its way, will be run over by it.” ~Abraham Lincoln, October 1863

He carried the heavy burden of leading a country being disemboweled by the issues of race and equality, while at the same time digesting the unfathomable loss of a cherished son. He was the consummate public servant, shrewd but humble, who despite his affinity for folksy storytelling, wore the crown of President of the United States with unwavering solemnity. I might as well mention here the guy playing Lincoln, you know, Daniel Day-Lewis, will most likely take home an Oscar for his performance.

Spielberg also shied away from the malignancy and inflammation slavery injected into our nation’s narrative. The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history and by its end, over three million men had fought and nearly 750,000 gave their lives. The 13th Amendment is arguably the most significant and contentious legislation of our nation’s existence and while the film illuminated the mechanisms of its passage, it failed to capture the emotions and grittiness of its provenance. The gravity of this reality felt like a distant backdrop and a little too sanitized.

‘Lincoln’ is an ambitious film, and a timely one, but perhaps it would have been more appropriately presented as an HBO series. On the other hand, it was a welcomed reminder of one of the greatest Presidents the United States has ever known, and I found myself blinking back tears at the tragic loss of such an impressive, noble soul.

About Amy Senger:
Amy Senger is an L.A. transplant by way of Washington, DC, and co-founder of 1X57, named to Washingtonian’s Tech Titans list with her partner Steven Mandzik. Follow her on twitter @sengseng and follow the Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch or email amy@1×57.com.
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