Steven Spielberg could not have picked a better moment to release his latest film, Lincoln, about the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, his efforts to end the Civil War and to abolish slavery. With the current presidential election upon us (at the time of writing, the election has not yet happened), one can’t help but compare our current human rights situation to that featured in Lincoln. President Lincoln, arguably our greatest President yet, comes from a time when Republicans weren’t all seemingly insane and hate filled. But Lincoln isn’t about political parties or the changing of the system over time. It’s a film about one man’s idea for peace and equality. A film that arrives at the perfect time.
The thing that will instantly be talked about with this film is the always magnetic Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the former President. His resemblance to Lincoln is virtually uncanny. The way that Day-Lewis transformed himself for the role is a remarkable thing. I’m no professional Lincoln historian by any means, but something that I always remembered from school was hearing about how there was no physical recording of Lincoln’s voice. That every previous hollywood incarnation of the man all got his voice wrong, by assuming he was a deep baritone, when actually there are written records stating that he was more of a higher pitched tenor. That’s exactly what Daniel Day-Lewis has given the President in Lincoln. Given the President’s voice, his calm and collected nature, posture, and musings, I couldn’t help but feel that Spielberg and Day-Lewis have crafted THE definitive incarnation. It’s a performance that screams Oscar Bate, and deservingly so.
Lincoln is probably Spielberg’s most overtly political film to date. So much so, that before screening the film, I expected a sprawling epic about the last days of President Lincoln, but instead, it turned out to be a rather low key intimate film that was very VERY dialogue heavy. At times, maybe even a little reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s JFK. A vast chunk of Lincoln is strung together with scenes of the President talking about the importance of the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment with his cabinet. As perfectly executed as those scenes were, and as flawless of a performance as Daniel Day-Lewis gives, at times I couldn’t help but be slightly overwhelmed by the dialogue. It flies about at lightning speed, and a few times I actually found some of it going over my head a bit.
Another thing noticed about Lincoln is just how quiet of a film it is. Spielberg who is known to bombard the viewer with John Williams’ score (not that that’s a bad thing), uses Williams’ score lightly and subtly. I can only remember three sequences in the entire film that had that typical sentimental sweeping music attached to it. The dialogue, as lightening fast as it is at times, was most always accompanied with silence. Which, thinking back on it, did carry a bit of effectiveness. You didn’t need to music to let you know how important the scene was, despite my, at times, not full understanding of what was happening.
Despite the slight disconnect that I felt towards the film at certain points, I realized just how much I was actually invested in the film, when the voting takes place for the passing of the Amendment. All of a sudden, I was gripped in my seat, full of anxiety and hope, as these politicians cast their votes, witnessing the undecided representatives choose “I” over “Nay”. It was easily the best and most rewarding scene in the entire film.
I can’t talk about Lincoln without mentioning the film’s trio of comedic relief. Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, and James Spader (who nearly steals the show) as Lobbyists for the Thirteenth Amendment. All three actors knocked the performances out of the park, and were given just the right amount of screen time. Most everyone in this enormous ensemble cast delivers fantastic performances, especially not to leave out Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. Even though most actors are given mere cameos due to the screenplay’s sprawling nature. One of the biggest missteps, being Joseph-Gordon Levitt being stuck in the small role of Lincoln’s son Robert, who wants to join the war, despite his mother & father’s refusal. His character makes such a big deal about getting in, that once Lincoln finally allows him to join, the film never follows up on the subject, making it it seem somewhat a trivial inclusion.
Lincoln‘s ending scene is proceeded by an obvious powerful image. One that simply doesn’t exist in history. It hits hard and not just by the emotional weight, but the historical weight as well. Despite not being a perfect film, Lincoln works in quite a few ways. It’s necessary viewing for the current election, so that people can be reminded of the prejudice and bigotry that was fought so hard against a hundred and fifty years ago. Although we’re fighting different prejudices a hundred and fifty years later, Lincoln is a reminder that equality is achievable even when certain ignorant people fight so hard against it.
I give Lincoln a 4 out of 5
By Richard Pepper