Steven Spielberg is a directing legend, and his latest historical film of struggle, war and triumph brings us into the Civil War era White House. Lincoln shines new light onto one of the greatest presidents in American history and details some of the unsavory yet necessary action he took to keep the country intact while ensuring the freedom of all African slaves in the United States. The film, like most recent Spielberg period pieces, has moments of greatness – perpetuated mainly by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and the scriptwriter Tony Kushner – moments that are balanced by moments of pure tedium. Lincoln is nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and Actress, Screenplay and Director.
In 1865, as the American Civil War winds toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment, which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for if peace comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience – end slavery, or end the war. (Source: IMDb)
If there is one thing to be said about Steven Spielberg as a director, it is that the performances he pulls from his actors are incredible. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln is inspirational. He is methodical, passionate, quiet and reserved all at once. He is frail and strong, verbally vicious, humorous and kind. Not only does he have all the strong psychological features necessary, but he is also a physically impeccable choice. Day-Lewis is able to pull off Tony Kushner’s heavy period dialogue with ease, giving each moment a noteworthy performance. He is simply brilliant.
Mary Todd Lincoln is the exact opposite of her husband, and Sally Field is incredible in this role. She is heartbreaking, standing and kneeling in front of her husband begging to be heard in her grief and questionable stability while in public collected but within danger of snapping. She plays the frail side of the Lincolns perfectly, the only one who can truly make Abe lose his cool. Tommy Lee Jones as steadfast and smart abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens is the perfect stubborn old man. He gives a brilliant performance, which is hard to fault because of the ease with which he handles the wit and heated speech of the script and his uncompromising presence on film.
The acting aside, the script of Lincoln is comprehensively written by Tony Kushner who brings the world of 1865 America a new life and gives the actors, like always, something to chew on. However, there are periods where the film doesn’t live up to the potential, the mishandling of which is left to the director and the editor. Like Amistad before it (directed by Spielberg, not written by Kushner), Lincoln is full of oratory in period language, which, no matter how well delivered and performed, can leave us as the audience feeling tired and worn out. The editing of the film in key places helped move the film forward, however, it did tend to drag, especially towards the end. After the climactic event of the film, it felt almost like Spielberg was dragging us along like unwilling children to the end even though we had already seen what we came to see. We knew what was eventually coming and why we were being taken further, but the ending was unnecessary in the context of the full film.
The acting and script of Lincoln are exceptional, but the film itself is nothing special. It is a Spielberg biopic that uses astonishing performances and his name to achieve great things. In terms of an awards contender, I feel Lincoln deserves Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis’ extraordinary work, and the same for Best Supporting Actress for Sally Field. However, there are other more deserving nominees in the other categories.
(photos copyright of Dreamworks Pictures)