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The Spielberg Address

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Lincoln is based (“in part,” say the credits) on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which was widely reported to be on Barack Obama’s bedside table before winning the presidency. (As Lincoln reached out to Seward, Obama reached out to Hillary Clinton.) Spielberg had been nursing a Lincoln project for years, but the thrust of Lincoln is no accident after the bruising health-care debate and refusal of any Republican to follow Obama’s lead. Can the film be taken as a smack at Republicans—or a gentle rebuke to Obama, who lacked the Lincolnesque wiles on other fronts to entice his rivals to the table? Either way, it’s a profound lesson for politicians present and future in when to compromise and when to go to the mat.

Given Kushner’s fondness for writing closet cases, it’s no surprise there’s a kinda-sorta hint of Lincoln’s rumored affection for young men. But I didn’t think Abe seemed gay—more like ever so happy. As his wife, Sally Field seems too obviously on a mission to redeem Mary Todd Lincoln from the charge of being a harridan and a nut—Kushner even has her character tell her husband she thinks that history will get her wrong. But I liked her tough little façade and so will you. Lincoln is too sharply focused to deserve the pejorative “biopic” label. It’s splendid enough to make me wish Spielberg would make a “prequel” to this instead of another goddamn Indiana Jones picture. His filmmaking is deceptively simple—the kind of simplicity only a master can achieve. Political speechwriters can learn from that, too.

James Bond is no Lincoln, but he’s certainly an icon, and there’s a lot of witty goofing around with iconography in Daniel Craig’s third Bond outing, Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes and co-writer John Logan have been around the block with Shakespeare, and they’ve played up the Hamlet-like reluctance in Craig’s 007 to assume the role for which he’s intended. This is the movie in which the newest Bond finally eases into the part of the bon vivant for-Queen-and-Country horndog who likes his martinis shaken and not stirred.

It’s an unusually funny, literate, worked-out script, and Mendes seems hell-bent on making the best Bond since Goldfinger—or the best, period, given that he exhumes Bond’s old Aston Martin only to shoot it cheekily to pieces. The pre-credit sequence is a can-you-top-this cavalcade of glorious stunts with a shocking punch line leading straight into Adele’s good theme song and a scary, mournful first act. M (Judi Dench) is now plainly a monster mother all too willing to sacrifice any of her chicks for the greater good. Bond rages against her but loves her, too—unlike Silva, played by Javier Bardem. Bardem’s physiognomy is frighteningly distended, and he might have been the best Bond villain ever if he’d spent more time villainizing and less ranting crazily against his old mum. The first three quarters of Skyfall are thrilling, but by the time we get to the climax, the filmmakers have run out of invention and the movie has degenerated into a couple of yowling mama’s boys who need a dad to smack them around and tell them to stop ­sniveling.

Lincoln
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Dreamworks. PG-13.

Skyfall
Directed by Sam Mendes.
MGM/Columbia Pictures/Eon. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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