DANIEL DAY LEWIS TOMMY LEE JONES SALLY FIELD JOSEPH GORDEN LEVITT JAMES SPADER
JOHN HAWKES DAVID STRATHAIRN BRUCE MCGILL HAL HOLBROOK JACKIE EARL HALEY
The first thing you will notice about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is how much smaller the title appears on the screen compared to War Horse, which filled the frame. That is the first clue that Spielberg has finally took the advice of his critics and used the restraint he needed to get out of the way and tell a good story once again. It’s ironic that restraint was the correct ingredient to tell a story about a man, a president that was literally larger than life, or at least those he stood next to. Continuing the theme of restraint, two time Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis practices the same; usually he is an actor known for his colorful and boisterous performances like Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York or his recent winning performance in There Will Be Blood. Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln is soft spoken, gentle and full of stories.
The 16th President of the United States has just been elected to his second term. Abraham Lincoln (Lewis) will now push forward with trying to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed through congress. As the country is divided and a war rages into its fourth year, the north versus the south; Lincoln must result to whatever is necessary to end slavery for good. His advisors say he must choose between ending the war or freeing the slaves, but Lincoln knows there is a small hope that he can do both. Still dealing with the death of his son, his emotional wife Mary Todd (Field) continues to give him ultimatums while his eldest son Robert (Levitt) disregards his parents’ wishes and joins the war. Heavy are the concerns of this man and long are the nights he stays up working to figure out the future of America.
The film opens on the battlefield with Davie Oyelowo (Red Tails, The Paperboy) speaking to Lincoln and quoting one of his most famous speeches before he is called back to his duty. This film opens simply, which surprised me, and we are carefully eased into the idea of Lewis as Lincoln and oh, how quickly we lose sight of the method actor inside this character. There is no massive, sweeping cinematography Spielberg films are known for, nor does the John Williams score roar into the more dramatic scenes. Instead, this film hides inside the walls of important buildings that are dimly lit and is covered with talented and respectable actors. Directing actors has never been Spielberg’s strong point; no actor has ever won an Oscar under Spielberg’s direction.
It’s often the showy roles that earn Oscar nominations, and both Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field deliver the colorful performances and are likely to earn nods for their supporting parts. Jones steals the show as the radical Thaddeus Stevens with his great, fiery dialogue. I do believe Lewis will be nominated for his subtle emersion into the character, but Lincoln, overall, is not the film that will earn the most praise, nominations or buzz; it’s simply not that type of movie. The best scenes in the film are the small ones like the carriage ride Lincoln and Mary have, discussing how they need to try and be happy. The screenplay, which relies heavily on part of Doris Kaerns Goodwin’s novel, gives us an idea of Lincoln that strays away from myth and grandeur and indentifies a simple man.
Final Thought – Spielberg’s most restrained effort in years, lead by three good performances.
Grade B By: Dustin Chase W.
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
This is Spielberg at his best; no major flaws and not so perfect it looks unreal, as in Warhorse. By starting with the highly respected work by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential historian (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln), Spielberg’s film can be relied upon to give what seems to be a fairly accurate picture of the political turmoil surrounding the passage by Congress of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution outlawing slavery. This comes toward the end of the Civil War, which partially helped it succeed. Congressmen, citizens, and the North and the South were bone weary of the war, and Lincoln’s genius was to pair the bill he desperately wanted to pass with a truce. This required some dicey political maneuvers, but it is clear that Lincoln felt it was such a moral issue, he was willing to stretch the boundaries of political propriety.
In this film, we see Abraham Lincoln in ways we have seldom seen before—his wry humor, his patience with foes as well as family members, his love of story telling (sometimes to the chagrin of the listener), his need for political power (based not on personal gain but on his principles), and his passion for his wife and children, for instance. We have seen—and do here again—the tremendous respect many had for him, his conscientiousness in wanting to do the right thing, his grief about the bloodiness of the Civil War, and his formidable knowledge.
A strength of Lincoln is not only the detailed arguments made for and against the 13th Amendment, but the colorful figures struggling to oppose and support it. Daniel Day Lewis is so much a “Lincoln”, the viewer forgets the actor and only sees the character. Another standout is Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) the irascible Congressman whom Jones shows in all his derisive foul-mouthed glory. A nod needs to be given to Sally Field for her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, as the pretty, bright, extravagant—and trying—wife of the President. I hope she, Lewis, and Jones all get recognized in the award nomination process.
Every aspect of good filmmaking comes into play in this film: Direction, production, acting, cinematography, costumes (Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses are amazing and live up to her reputation for extravagance), set design, and editing (the film moves quickly despite the somewhat dry political arguments, which are peppered now and then with levity). Not only is it good filmmaking, but I think it would be an effective teaching tool in history classes.