Another commanding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis lifts this uncharacteristically slow-paced and talky Spielberg film from being too self-absorbed in its historical importance.
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes
Plot: As the American Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actor, Best Production Design. Nom. for 10 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Civil War, American History
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 18 Feb 2013
What a performance! Daniel Day-Lewis does not really need to prove that he is the greatest living actor currently working today, but a historic third Oscar for Best Leading Actor, which he will be getting in a week, will be that symbolic culmination of all that is extraordinary about this immensely gifted artiste.
Playing President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic that shrewdly focuses on the final months of his life, Day-Lewis becomes Lincoln in a transformation that transcends physical and behavioral resemblance, towards an emotional struggle fueled by political imperatives.
The imperative to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery and end the bloody civil war between the North and South could not have been more important to Lincoln. Its success continues to reverberate throughout time, and time has shown that Lincoln’s perseverance towards the cause to emancipate slaves has been clearly vindicated.
Written by Tony Kushner (Munich, 2005), based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of the great man, Lincoln is dense with American politics and history, though the film may not be particularly accessible to those viewing it through a non-American lens.
Spielberg has always been a master entertainer. But Lincoln is uncharacteristically slow and talky. Much of the criticisms aimed at the film share something in common – that it is boring. Rex Reed of New York Observer calls it “a colossal bore”.
Well, I admit that the first hour remains to be as pedantic as it gets, but the film gets more progressively engaging thereafter for two reasons.
“Shall we stop this bleeding?”
First, there is a more definable focus, that of trying to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, when in contrast, the first hour seems to be primarily loaded with jargonistic political bickering. Second, Day-Lewis’ strong performance helps to ease viewers into the political situation of that time.
Amistad (1997), another Spielberg film with a similar theme of slavery and racial discrimination is considerably more powerful, despite being one of the director’s more underrated works.
In any case, Lincoln still succeeds to some extent in bringing history to life, though by ‘life’ I don’t mean that the film is lively, but that it visualizes in incredible historic detail one of the most turbulent but significant moments not only in American history, but also in the history of the world.
John Williams’ stirring score is a mix of rousing strings and solemn piano solos, effectively capturing the time period with a kind of stately reverence, though I feel it operates less emotionally when used in the film than when listened separately on its own.
Like Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and maybe even Munich, Lincoln will go down as one of Spielberg’s most important works. It may be a slow affair and appears self-absorbed in its historical importance, but Day-Lewis as self-absorbed as he is, is still extremely riveting in slow movies.