I didn’t have a proper conclusion for my two articles on Spielberg’s cinema, but now I found it with Lincoln, his last film, which happens to be also a good follow-up to my last post on ethics. I must say that this is not exactly a review, because I want to focus mainly on one scene that I will use to introduce a new angle from which we can view his cinema; in lieu of proper criticism, I’ll add some general observations at the end.
As always with Spielberg, his movie is an answer to a former one; in this case, Lincoln replies to Saving Private Ryan (among others, but especially). Both movies open on a similar representation of the war: in SPR, it was a long virtuosic set-piece of the Normandy landing, the most famous scene of the movie but also the worst. A little nuance would be in order, but with its presentation of violence in a frontal, ostentatious manner, this fluid camera moving cleverly around the scene, travelling from the characters to the gruesome death of unknown soldiers and back to the characters, as if this violence was taking place especially for this omniscient camera, which always happened to be at the right place at the right moment, with all this technical skill on display, well this whole landing didn’t seem chaotic or arbitrary anymore; instead we felt mostly the absolute mastery of the filmmaker, who was using all his ingenuity to set-up the most impressive spectacle possible (and it is impressive, but this doesn’t really serve the purpose). Lincoln begins on the bloody fields of the Civil War, but this time the violence lasts about one minute: Spielberg turns away from the war itself and heads towards his main character, a Lincoln discussing with two black soldiers. From now on, the filmmaker isn’t interested in the action, but in the ideas behind it (which, incidentally, coincide with his announcement that he will no longer make action movies).