Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Historical
Run Time: 2 hours, Rated PG-13
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earl Haley
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, Munich, War Horse )
Spielberg is a master filmmaker who has used the theme of “believing” throughout his filmography. In Lincoln, he uses this theme to effectively depict a man who had instilled belief into thousands during one of the most tumultuous times in our country’s history.
This long-awaited, Steven Spielberg helmed Abraham Lincoln biopic, Lincoln, makes a conscious effort right from the get-go to defy our expectations. Focusing in on the last few months of Lincoln’s life – his fight to emancipate the slaves, end the Civil War and unite his country – Spielberg meticulously examines the man, Lincoln, debunking much of what we may think we know. In the opening scene, for example, we see the iconic figure of Lincoln with his tall hat, towering over some soldiers who view him as some sort of a celebrity – exactly the way we would picture him. But then the very next scene, this larger-than-life hero to many is shown as a meek and sensitive man, with a timid, thoughtful demeanor and voice that doesn’t quite seem to fit his booming, “four scores and seven years ago” image.
Anybody with even a minimal amount of historical knowledge knows how the story of Lincoln ends, as he is assassinated while with his wife, watching a stage play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. To this day, it is still one of the most tragic occurrences in the history of America. Yes, this story ends with the assassination, but once again Spielberg defies expectations as to how this is shown on screen. But this scene or event isn’t what the film is about.
Rather, the film Lincoln is equal-parts biography and court-room drama. We don’t get a full-blown back story on Lincoln as he grows up, etc. But the film is very interested in how he works and thinks. The major event in the film takes place within the walls of Congress and focuses in on Lincoln’s role in adopting the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is stellar. Credit an award-worthy makeup and wardrobe job as helping us along, but his performance is the closest thing to an Oscar nomination lock as there is. Sally Field is Mary Todd Lincoln, historically showcased as a crazy-lady but given depth by Field in a smaller but equally effective performance. Together – and with an amazing ensemble of A and B-list actors in down-sized supporting roles – they are collectively nothing short of superb.
We all know that ole’ Honest Abe “cannot tell a lie,” but we forget that Lincoln was not just a great President, he was a great politician. According to this film, he was intent on uniting his people and saving the Union above all else, and sometimes this would mean resorting to some down and dirty political tactics. Day-Lewis depicts Lincoln as honest to his personal intentions, if not to his cohorts.
We learn the pressures Lincoln faced not only from the South or his political opponents, but also within his own family. If he fails to amend the Constitution he faces severe consequences that not only have lasting impact on American society, but immediate impact on his son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and on his relationship with his wife.
Because of its nature and structure as a “court-room drama” (and us knowing how this all eventually ends), Lincolndoes drag and at times seems to meander. It also seems over-stuffed with characters and actors that make it a bit hard to follow or remember who is who. But this is the definitive Abraham Lincoln film. Beautifully acted, masterfully crafted, Lincoln pulls back the curtain to show us the influence one man can have in the lives of so many. It makes you proud that such a leader existed and makes you question if ever there will be another with such conviction, with the ability to lead as he did.
Spielberg has created another gem…a poignant character study that fits perfectly into his canon of belief-inducing films.
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