Lincoln is a movie about the 16th president and plays into the themes Spielberg often adds into the movies. What do characters like Oskar Schindler, Indiana Jones, and Captain Miller all have in common? They’re all heroes made out for the audience to admire. Spielberg’s fascination with such characters has created some of his strongest works and Lincoln is not an exception. Lincoln is a great movie, a masterpiece in fact and is Spielberg’s strongest and most accomplished film since A. I.: Artificial Intelligence. It’s a picture that calls upon perhaps America’s greatest president and honors and respects him. Like Schindler’s List, Lincoln does not fall into the pit of conventional biopics. Instead it tries and succeeds to be an analysis of the president.
Lincoln is not about the life of the president but about the last three months of his life. The Civil War is nearing its end and Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) plans to form the 13th Amendment that would abolish all slavery and would ultimately enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. He believes that the end of slavery would be the ultimate blow to the Confederacy. But to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress, Lincoln needs more support. His secretary of state William Seward (David Strathairn) advises Lincoln through the way and Representative Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), backs the amendment in the House. Lincoln also has three chief negotiators (Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, John Hawkes) to get the votes of the Democrats in the House, which mostly involves bribing them with jobs and promotions.
But Lincoln also deals with the president’s internal struggle. His wife Mary (Sally Field) believes that the amendment will not pass in Congress and ruin Lincoln’s reputation. She also doesn’t want to put her son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the war as she already lost her other son in it.
Lincoln is based on a short selection from the novel Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The title of the book is a perfect description for the film; Lincoln deals with the president’s political insight.
Spielberg chose to move the film after the election to avoid politicians from using it to campaign. While the movie takes place in the 19th century, the situation can easily be placed in today’s world of government. It’s easy to replace Obama in Lincoln’s shoes and instead of passing the 13th Amendment he passed Obamacare. Yet Lincoln will not polarize both the Democratic and Republican parties. An early premiere at the New York Film Festival with massive applause and Bill O’Reilly, one of the most noted conservative pundits on television, widely praised the film.
Spielberg’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has frequently worked with the director, uses muted earth tones to capture some of the most startlingly beautiful images of the year. The movie’s one and only battle scene is at the beginning of the film, which is about as gritty as the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan despite being no where near as violent. Spielberg also initiates many of his usual techniques: light coming through windows shining on characters appears here. Spielberg’s direction here is fantastic and very powerful.
Lincoln is a long film, ranging to about two and a half hours and mostly about politics. Many of the film’s critics say the pace is too slow, but I disagree there. Lincoln is so engrossing, so convincing, that it flew by for me. I was glued to the screen for every second of the film from the opening battle scene to the end credits.
The strongest part of Lincoln is undoubtedly the acting. The movie has a strong cast ranging with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Sally Field does great as Mary Todd, as do Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. James Spader also deserves much credit. I typically dislike his performances but he did very well here, even though he was in a small role.
The greatest triumph of the cast though is Daniel Day-Lewis. Lewis is in my opinion the best actor working today and he’s one of the few who really embraces his roles. He’s known to research the characters he’s playing to make it realistic as possible and it always pays off in the end. In My Left Foot, he plays a man stricken with cerebral palsy, in Gangs of New York he plays a brutal Nativist gang leader, and in There Will Be Blood he plays a greedy oil prospector. As Lincoln, Lewis embodies all the traits of the president. According to The New York Times, Lincoln actually had a high-pitches voice, so Lewis adjusted his own to match it. As Lincoln, Lewis is empowering. He gives speeches to his own cabinet, presses his wife, and cradles his youngest son Tad (Gulliver McGrath). Lincoln is a father figure in the film, and Lewis plays the role perfectly. In fact in the last ten years the only performance I can think of that can match this is another Lewis one, his role as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. If Lewis doesn’t get an Oscar nomination then the Academy will have to reevaluate itself.
Overall, Lincoln is a golden triumph, a movie sure to be a big contender for being the best film of the year. Spielberg’s manigicent film is the most convincing historical piece in years and is also great entertainment. Lincoln should not be missed in theaters.