Tag: david strathairn


Lincoln (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is up for a second term as the president of the United States and he is determined to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, designed to ban slavery across the country, by the end of January 1865. Although it had been passed by the Senate on April 1864, the House of Representatives is an entirely new arena: twenty more votes from the democratic side are required to pass the amendment. With the American Civil War in its fourth year and everyone is growing weary, Lincoln believes it is of utmost importance, morally and politically, to douse slavery and its possible reemergence once and for all before the war comes to a close.

As someone who does not know much about Lincoln other than the fact that he had managed to abolish slavery prior to his assassination, I found “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, as an educational and moving portrait of a leader who has, in a theory, a lot of power but at the same time almost enslaved to it because his ambitions are not often in tune with a public that is either not ready for or not willing to face radical changes.

Choosing to focus on a specific time frame of Lincoln’s legacy is smart because it gives us ample time to get to know the man on a more personal angle. While we are given several chances to observe how he interacts with those closest to him professionally, fellow republicans, and democrats, it is interesting that much importance is placed on his internal personal struggles to make slavery illegal. This is when Day-Lewis’ sublime performance comes into play. Yes, he looks very eerily like the Lincoln we see in photographs but without the specific knowing and sparkle in his eyes, most of us might find it difficult to believe his character for wanting to push for the change that he thinks the country needs in order to move forward or at least be better than it was prior to the hundreds of thousands lives lost in the Civil War.

As a side note, this may sound strange because we often yearn for the opposite but because Day-Lewis’ performance feels so complete, I found myself wanting to see a glimpse of the actor playing Lincoln. Eventually, I felt like I was able to but it required considerable effort and patience. When the actor is quiet, it is like staring down a sphinx. And most of the time Lincoln keeps his feelings to himself. But when he shows the anger and frustration of his character, those very discerning can recognize the man behind the performance. I wish I can tell you why my gut needed a reminder that I was watching an actor playing Lincoln. Perhaps it is an uncommonly traversed avenue to connect with the material on a deeper level.

The look of the picture is also impressive. I like to look at faces, especially in profile, and so I could not help but notice the way light is utilized to create an additional angle on a face or shadow to reflect fears or doubts during one-on-one conversations. A similar observation can be applied when the camera pulls away from the faces. Since most of the deliberations occur indoors, when there is a special point to be made, most of the light is focused on the center of the room. And yet at the same time, the dark sides and corners of the room draw us in. It is a fascinating way to tie in to the picture’s overarching theme. A room can be interpreted as a reflection of the nation’s attitudes toward putting slavery to death. Although most of those under bright lights are informed and ready for change, there are those who remain in the dark, some will do anything to resist being in that light. Imagine if the rooms had been completely lit. The mystery painted on the people’s faces and the tension in the room might have been absent altogether.

“Lincoln,” based on the screenplay by Tony Kushner, is also peppered with memorable performances by Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife still in a state of grief over their son’s passing due to typhus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s eldest son who wishes to leave school and enlist in the army, and David Strathairn as the Secretary of State. Because the film is able to function as a character study, Lincoln the storyteller being the most revealing and entertaining, as well as detailing a specific time in history, it overcomes our awareness that the Thirteenth Amendment will inevitably pass.

Cold Souls

Cold Souls (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Paul Giamatti stars as himself in “Cold Souls,” written and directed by Sophie Barthes, who one day decided, with the help of Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), to extract his soul and put it into storage. He came to such a drastic decision to relieve some of the anxiety he was feeling about doing a play. He figured that if his soul was not in his body, we wouldn’t be such a worry-wart and therefore wouldn’t think about the little things that didn’t quite matter in the long run. However, after the operation, he found himself to be not quite himself anymore–the subtlety in his acting was gone, his ability to relate with others was ziltch and even his wife (Emily Watson) claimed that he was “different.” That catch was when Giamatti decided he wanted his soul back, the Russian black market already got ahold of his soul. The concept of this film was quite impressive when I saw the trailers, but unfortunately, the execution was lackadaisical and meandering. I thought I would get a “Being John Malkovich”-level film because of the many questions and intricacies regarding the soul but I felt as though the film didn’t want to tackle such big questions and issues head-on. When it comes to movies, when I feel reluctance coming from the filmmakers’ parts, I constantly find myself having a hard time buying the concept of the movie. Unfortunately, it happened in “Cold Souls.” Instead, the picture ran rampant with broken scenes of Giamatti doing random things that didn’t add up to anything. It’s not the lead actor’s fault; he was tremendous in this film–his quirks and outbursts were downright hilarious and self-deprecating. It was really the writing and direction that bogged this film down to something dangerously soporific. For such an interesting topic that have been theorized by philosophers for hundrends of years, it didn’t have any power so the film felt stagnant. Half-way through the picture, I wondered if the movie would have been more interesting if it had been a hybrid between a comedy and a thriller. After all, the Russian black market was involved. But instead of menace and dark wit, we get somewhat of a comic look at their lives as they try to gather souls from very talented actors like Sean Penn, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, George Clooney, and the like. Sometimes the comedy worked but most of the time it didn’t. With a more capable director and a sharper writing, this film would definitely have been so much better. I say “Cold Souls” might be a good rental for very patient viewers but it’s definitely not for those looking for something that’s dares to look at the extremes of what-if.

The Uninvited

The Uninvited (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Uninvited,” directed by Charles Guard and Thomas Guard, is a remake of a Korean film “A Tale of Two Sisters.” I have not seen the latter but I was actually surprised with how this one turned out because the trailers looked unconvincing to say it lightly. This picture is about a girl (Emily Browning) who is recently released from a mental hospital. When she returns home, she finds out that her father (David Strathairn) is in a relationship with the very same nurse (Elizabeth Banks) who took care of her mother when she was still alive. After dreaming about her mother’s angry ghost proclaiming that the nurse murdered her, the main character teams up with her spunky sister (Arielle Kebbel) and the two gather up evidence to get the nurse out of their lives. Since the movie is about a girl who has been recently released from a mental hospital, I decided to view this film from a psychological point of view. Right away, I knew something was a bit off with some of the characters because they exhibited paranoia, delusions and even psychosis with memory relapses. Yes, the premise of the film involved a ghost story/murderer backdrop but I thought that all of it was ultimately justified considering the main character’s state of mind. To me, this is not really a horror film as most people would say. It’s more of a psychological thriller because the way the story unfolded is really from the main character’s perspective. It was able to utilize the whole evil stepmother concept to add to the ever-growing conflict in the house (and stress that comes with it). The stresses then triggers something explainable (to an extent) which happened in the final act. This horror remake is far from perfect but it was interesting enough to keep my attention to figure out what was really happening underneath the supernatural facade. Having said that, I can also understand why a person who sees this film from a purely horror genre perspective may be frustrated with it. I say if one is remotely interested in watching it for whatever reason, then by all means do so. But I must give a warning that “The Uninvited” offers nothing new.