Lincoln (2012 20th Century Fox)
As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Directed by Steven Spielberg | Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy | Screenplay by Tony Kushner | Story by Doris Kearns Goodwin (book) | Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones
This Spielberg kid might make something of himself in this business, after all.
Everything you’ve already heard about Lincoln is true. It is an engrossing masterpiece about one of the most crucial pieces of legislation ever passed in the United States, during the Civil War no less. We Americans have been taught some manner of the Lincoln presidency and the U.S. Civil war since we were children. If we step outside ourselves for a moment and ignore that, we can’t help but marvel at this stranger-than-fiction premise: a sitting president driving a controversial and sometimes unpopular constitutional amendment through Congress while the nation is at war with itself. Not verbal protests. A real, actual war wear thousands of men and boys died. And our current Congress can’t work together? Pshaw!
At its heart, Lincoln is a political thriller, examining a a difficult and tumultuous four-month stretch in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in early 1865. The Civil War is nearing its end and Lincoln wants the House of Representatives to end slavery now. At the same time, Lincoln is balancing his life as a father and husband, dealing with grief, depression and self doubt. And Tony Soprano thought he had it rough?
Spielberg films are noted for being larger-than-life with stunning visuals and effects wrapped around very human performances and Lincoln is no departure. It is an authentic view of mid-19th century American life in the sets, costuming and dialogue. The superior acting of every performer in Lincoln is what drives the success. In particular, the House debate scenes leave an indelible mark for the culmination of all the parts coming together to deliver the strongest performance.
We already know about the top-line cast. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones inhabited their characters. Perhaps Field is the most underrated of the three, as a depressed and anxious Mary Todd Lincoln. And as much as I am frightened by Daniel Day-Lewis’s ability to become a character, I was most taken with the supporting cast.
Lincoln is crawling with “…ooh, THAT guy” actors who round out a dream team of actors. Bruce McGill (a personal favorite), John Hawkes, Jackie Earl Haley, Gloria Reuben, David Strathairn and Hal Holbrook each put their signatures on Lincoln through remarkable performances. But it is James Spader as the eccentric and engaging W.N. Bilbo who stole the show. No actor made more of their limited screen time than Spader.
I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of Lincoln, other than to say I’m sure they took license at times. But this is not a documentary. It gets the major details correct and delivers a weighty, dramatic performance that is a bit overwhelming at times, but ultimately satisfying. Yes, you have to lock in and pay close attention to the dialogue in Lincoln. The devil is in every detail in this picture. It is worth every minute.
RATING: **** (out of 5)