Bottom Line: Lincoln is easily Spielberg’s most unforgettable since Schindler’s List.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
President Abraham Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis
Also Starring: David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones
“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” –The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Let us begin with a brief rundown. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated sixteenth President of the USA in 1861. Although a long-time Whig, Lincoln was the first commander-in-chief to emerge from the Republican party. Prior to his 1865 assassination, Lincoln devoted much of his presidency to the abolition of slavery. Following his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he poured buckets of sweat over the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the brief but rather incredible statement that would officially abolish the country’s slavery. Although these papers were not ultimately ratified until nearly eight months after Lincoln’s passing, we remember it as his legacy. And that’s the basics–none of which is present in Lincoln, or at least not in that superficial mentality. Even one who knew innately of Lincoln’s controversy during his truncated presidency would be mind-blown by how astoundingly this account depicts it. No, it isn’t a documentary, so there’s still a good chance that it was dramatized. Knowing the director, the writer, and the cast, however, it’s all for a purpose. A purpose that vastly succeeds at transforming generic textbook information into an enthralling tale of revolution and leadership.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Abraham Lincoln himself. Combine a prestigious acting record (two Academy Awards, one of which was for another historical role) with a striking resemblance, and you have a man just indistinct marks away from a reincarnated Lincoln. Using Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner’s deeply moving screenplay as a basis, Day-Lewis uproots entirely into the sublime persona of such a revered and effective president. He’s that sponge-like bystander, soaking in conversation as he meditates on what he is hearing, then pouring them all out fluently, succinctly, brilliantly. Indeed, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are remarkable in their respective roles as Lincoln’s wife and son, but it’s often difficult to tell when Day-Lewis is thoroughly piloting the film. Even as the film’s most soft-spoken, he leaves a pithy impression. There’s a side to him as well that reminds of quintessential literary character Atticus Finch: a well-rounded family man destined to do anything and everything to have his view accepted. And you could say this is To Kill a Mockingbird, just fitted as a biography concerning abolition. It’s difficult to take our eyes off a tour de force like Lincoln, regardless of how much it covers and elaborates on a small slice of American history.
If there’s one filmmaker who I can without hesitation applaud for making me love film, it’s Steven Spielberg. Had I made a list of my favorite films between the ages of nine and eleven, it would be bookmarked with Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. At that age, any film by Spielberg was to inevitably win over me. I now take a peek at the director’s recent filmography. War of the Worlds was an exciting throwback to his science fiction days, but it’s otherwise quite standard. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, fun, but disappointing. To mince words, I’ve taken the recent Spielberg under a rather forgettable light. Now let’s look at Lincoln, a total deviation from that flow. It’s groundbreaking. Need I say more? Not since Schindler’s List has Steven Spielberg called the shots for a film so spiritually and emotionally captivating. (It’s exuberantly patriotic, too, but that goes without saying.) Combine precise, articulate filmmaking with powerhouse acting and authentic writing, and you have the most thought-provoking film of the year. Damn straight I said it. A chef d’ouevre.