Film: Spielberg creates magic with ‘Lincoln’

By Will Ashton |
Lincoln | Directed by Steven Spielberg | Rated PG-13

Daniel Day-Lewis. Steven Spielberg. Abraham Lincoln.

One is among the greatest actors of all time. One remains one of the greatest directors working today. The other is one of the best presidents the United States has ever had.

When these three forces come together, it would be hard to believe that they would create something of little impact. Needless to say, they make one of the best films so far this year with Lincoln.

Those walking into this movie expecting the full life story of the 16th president may leave a little disappointed. Lincoln narrowly focuses itself on the president’s time during his second term as president, where the Civil War had been in effect for many years and the 13th Amendment was growing closer to being inducted into the Constitution. Despite the president’s ongoing efforts to support civil union, he continues to face the difficulties of winning the majority vote from the opposing Democratic Party.

Based, in part, on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln is not a movie that wishes to completely explore the man behind the beard and top hat. In Spielberg’s own words, that story is “much too big” to tell. Rather, the movie explores how one man wishes to change the fate of humanity within his controllable reach, through primarily focusing on one strong period of his life.

This is a film that Spielberg has wanted to make for nearly 12 years, and it definitely shows. When Spielberg grows passionate about something, it shines very clearly on the theater. While I, admittedly, still enjoy efforts like War Horse and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I admit it…), it’s clear that when he makes a film like this, or even last year’s fantastic adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, and his heart is completely in it, he can create magic.

But what is a depiction of a great man without an equally great performer behind it? It’s no secret that Day-Lewis is an amazing actor, and it should come to no surprise that he is among my favorite actors of all-time. So watching his depiction of Lincoln on screen should be expectedly incredible, and sure enough, it is.

Day-Lewis embodies the president, absolutely and completely. He is able to fit into the larger-than-life persona like a glove, but he is also able to make him a man. A simple man, at that, who just wishes to make things right in his life, as well as those in it, and in his country through this difficult time. He drives the character in both subtle and showy measures, but both to appropriate effect.

It’s an award-worthy performance, undoubtedly, and one that may very well lead to Day-Lewis taking  his third golden man home Oscar night.

In addition to his performance, a large supporting cast of performances from such performers as Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, David Stratharin, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson and, most notably, James Spader and Tommy Lee Jones are all also very strong, even in small measure. In fact, don’t be surprised to see Spader or Jones get nominations, or wins, of their own this award season.

Beyond its performances and direction, the film’s screenplay and the art and production design are extremely impressive. The film’s attention to detail (the ticking of Lincoln’s clock is actually from the president’s personal clock, recorded from the president’s museum in Illinois) and concentration of crafting such beautifully accurate sets makes the film so much more immersing and engaging. Additionally, the film’s script by Tony Kushner (who also wrote Munich for Spielberg) richly emerges itself in the words and times of its characters, often lacing in some sharp, and well-needed, political humor and provides a strong context for the issues at hand.

The movie is with its hiccups along the way. In the beginning, the movie, needlessly, beats you over the head with references to the president’s actions and speeches in a rather forced manner. Don’t worry guys, the title comes up on the screen before the movie started and our tickets say Lincoln on them. We know we didn’t walk into Skyfall.

Additionally, the film will occasionally juggle with whether it wishes to be more about the man or the issues during the beginning. But once the film finally decides that it’s about how the man influenced the resolution of the issues, it grows its well-need sure footing.

Also, some issues dealing with Lincoln’s family, including his wife’s mental illness, the death of Lincoln’s one son (it happens before the film starting point, I didn’t spoil anything), and his other son’s dysfunctional relationship are not fully developed, which is kind of a shame.

Overall, however, Lincoln is a fascinating and immersing biography about the president, and while it is a film that history buffs will undoubtedly love, thanks to passionate filmmaking and great performances, it’s also one non-history buffs can love as well.


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