Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)

I was exhilarated by John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln when I saw it recently, finding all the things I loved about Steven Spielberg's own Lincoln but without some of my nagging reservations about the film. In fairness, the same issues that gave me pause in Spielberg's film (the optimism making the cynicism a bit too well, the way arduous political scheming is presented as heroic) exist in Ford's, but Ford casts everything in a tone of his trademark ambivalence, finding the divine and all too mortal in his protagonist and those around him and not forcing his interpretation on an audience. In many ways, Henry Fonda's fresh-faced, breakthrough performance contains even stronger hints of Machiavellian maneuvering than Daniel Day-Lewis' war-weathered mastermind, and various contrasts of mise-en-scene and tone subvert every image just as soon as it tries to take root. A masterpiece, and truly one of the finest Ford films I've yet seen.

I wrote a longer review of the film over at Spectrum Culture. Check it out.

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