Usually, when we get a new film by master storyteller Steven Spielberg, we expect a movie that is large in scope with enormous set pieces and plenty of razzle dazzle. With his new film Lincoln, he has made an intimate character study of a man's struggle to overcome immense adversity in order to affect change of an historical level.
Daniel Day-Lewis gives a commanding performance as the famed 16th President of the United States, portraying him as a dignified man with grace, humility and tremendous resolve. It would be virtually impossible for anyone not to respect this incredible man, who many believe to be the greatest President in the country's history and one of the most important people of the past 150 years.
Based partially on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film takes place during the final four months of Lincoln's life. Thousands of Americans are dying in the Civil War and it doesn't appear that the South will surrender willingly. Having just been elected to his second term, Lincoln has passed the Emancipation Proclamation and he now desperately needs to get this 13th Amendment approved by Congress because it is largely thought of as merely a wartime powers act, and could easily be discarded once the war ends. He wants to free the slaves and knows that he has to act fast in order to make it happen. Secretary of State William Seward (the always reliable David Strathairn) does all he can to help get the bill passed, even going so far as to hire a trio of lobbyists (played wonderfully by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson) to procure the crucial votes needed from the Democrats who oppose the idea of abolishing slavery. Lincoln also reluctantly aligns himself with Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical Republican who is a staunch and outspoken abolitionist, yet someone with plenty of political clout and influence. Jones gives a tremendous performance as the cantankerous and highly vocal Stevens. He is sure to secure an Oscar nomination for his fine work here.
While dealing with all of this political strategizing and maneuvering, Lincoln must also remain a rock for his family, as his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) and youngest son Tad (Gulliver McGrath) are still grieving the loss of son William who was killed in the war. Now his other son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to join the war and this does not go over well with both Abe and Mary Todd.
Based on the superb performances by the tremendous cast alone, Lincoln is an exceptional film that will most certainly appeal to history buffs and those that are interested in the behind the scenes machinations of the political world during that period. Even though I felt that it started out a bit slow, the film inevitably sucked me in and I was compelled to witness the plight of such a great man to leave an enduring legacy for all of humanity. This really was one of the most important and necessary events in history and it was fascinating and inspiring to see how it all came to be.
With Lincoln, Spielberg has traded in his usual visual bombast to make a more muted and understated film that truly showcases the reverent power of the spoken word, and how one individual with dogged determination and tremendous fortitude can achieve so much and affect so many. I respect his obvious passion for this material, and it clearly shines through with this film.
I highly recommend Lincoln, if for nothing else than to see the master class of acting displayed by Daniel Day-Lewis. He completely inhabits the role creating a nuanced performance from the cadence of his speech, to the physical way he carried himself, and the quiet intelligence and sense of humour that he possessed.
The Academy Awards might as well start engraving his name on the little golden statue right now because he's going to be hard to beat this year.
If expertly crafted historical dramas are your thing then go see Lincoln.
I give Lincoln a 9 out of 10.
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