Lincoln is a staggering accomplishment that could only have been done because of one man: Daniel Day Lewis. He has a lock on the Oscar for best male actor.
It helps that Spielberg did the very best job he’s ever done as a director.
Here’s a trailer:
Released November 16, 2012
Written by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sally Field, Gloria Reuben, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Bruce McGill, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, and Lee Pace
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Lincoln (Day-Lewis) is well into his presidency and the Civil War is destroying the nation. His Emancipation Proclamation threw the country into an even bigger turmoil and now he is trying to pass the 13th Amendment, which would federally ban slavery in the USA. But he is faced with loads of opposition, from people who think the amendment will prolong the already awful war to people who feel that their way of life is being attacked.
At Lincoln’s side are his wife (Field) and oldest son (Gordon-Levitt), along with William Seward (Strathairn), his loyal and good Secretary of State and several other loyal staff members. They have a housemaid/nanny named Elizabeth (Reuben) who helps personalize the struggle against inequality and slavery.
This movie is about Lincoln and his supporters’ efforts to ban slavery with the 13th amendment. Key supporters include Thaddeus Stevens (Jones), Preston Blair (Holbrook), and W.N. Bilbo (Spader). The movie, along with being a clinic on acting, is essentially a political thriller that hinges on a historically powerful personality doing anything he can to get his way.
Lincoln suffers from a somewhat deification of Lincoln. That said, Lincoln openly and brazenly admits to having broken laws of the land in the ways he has tried to maintain the union and in how he has gathered extraordinary executive power.
That line from the trailer? “I am a president clothed in immense power.” That line is in the movie and is a fairly honest depiction of the hubris of this man and president. Kushner acts like he has written an honest portrayal of Lincoln that shows flaws of vanity and pride, and the portrayal sort of does that, but on second look, there’s an indulgence and a permissiveness being offered for what Lincoln did. There’s kind of an attitude that “Yeah, the Southerners had a good point about state and federal powers and all that, but.. slavery! and.. Lincoln– gosh he was great, wasn’t he?”
Obviously, slavery was and remains an immoral practice and it is a stain on the history of this nation. But less obvious is the problem that this movie fails to highlight– the civil war was not ONLY about slavery. Slavery is what we are taught to accept as THE SINGLE THING that drove the civil war and secession etc. And this movie preaches that doctrine, overlooking very valid arguments about sovereignty, law of the land, rule of law, and the free market.
So writing and deification and indulgence aside, Lincoln as an acting clinic and political thriller is very effective, despite being somewhat too long. It rings a little dramatized, but that is easily forgotten in the power of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance. This may be the single best acting performance ever put to film. Not only does he embody the popular vision of Lincoln, which is actually pretty much a caricature, he makes the 16th president a human being who seems like people we know.
Sally Field makes a game effort and does well as Mary Todd, but she looks like Sally Field, so.. Gidget.
There’s not a lot of story told beyond the amendment and family issues, so the movie is a little too long as it deals with these things– making the pace a little slow. But the film is quite understated in general, which is due to a surprisingly deft touch of Mr. Spielberg. That said, don’t go see Lincoln if you’re short on sleep.
Content warnings: grim images of battle, some language
Writing: 4 Acting: 5+ Overall: 5
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