Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” based off the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” is the story of the days in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency when he made efforts to pass an amendment to abolish slavery. The film follows Lincoln’s attempts to garner the necessary votes through the House of Representatives to get the amendment passed. To do so, Lincoln and members of his cabinet have to speak and try to not only unite the Republican Party, but get some Democratic Congressmen on their side.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is superb as the 16th president. The biggest achievement that he pulls off in the film is humanizing the very larger- than-life man that Lincoln has become through the ages. This is in main part due to the multi-layering that Day-Lewis does with Lincoln’s character. The audience is really able to get to know who Lincoln is through the screen, instead of just learning what he did in documentaries and books.
Not only is the issue of abolishing slavery weighing heavily on the Lincoln administration, the raging Civil War is as well. During Lincoln’s attempts to collect the necessary votes to get the amendment through the house, he also has to keep tabs on a possible negotiation with the Confederacy.
Rather than a full biography detailing all the events in Lincoln’s historic life, Spielberg only takes on a short period. However, through this time in Lincoln’s life that is shown through the camera, the audience really gets an idea of who Lincoln was as a man, husband, father president and politician. The film is masterful in its balancing both the importance of Lincoln’s political abilities and the struggles in his personal life.
It also portrays the American political system in all of its messy, slow and imperfect glory. As much as the film is able to draw emotion through Lincoln’s character and the many hardships going on with his life, it is also highly entertaining as a political thriller. The outcome of all the events are now well-known and documented, yet seeing everything come together on screen was truly fascinating and keeps a person on the edge of their seat.
The supporting cast is good, with most of, if not all, the members being Oscar-caliber. As much credit as Daniel Day-Lewis gets for his portrayal of Honest Abe, Tommy Lee Jones deserves nearly the same amount of credit for his fiery portrayal of Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens. Jones is great in the role and manages to breathe life into the character.
Sally Field also gives a strong performance as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, delivering the emotion that her real-life character must have been going through. Even roles with smaller screen time were well done, for example, Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant and Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens.
One staple to any Spielberg film is the visuals and this film is no exception. Despite, for the most part, only displaying scenes of politics in White House chambers or in the Capitol Building, everything feels authentic and real. The world of 1800s Washington, D.C., is very well portrayed through the use of camera, set and costume design.
“Lincoln” is at this point one of, if not the best, film of 2012. There are a few times the film feels a bit to sentimental, something that Spielberg has done more of in his more recent flicks. However, they aren’t overwhelming or too distracting. Overall, the acting by this talented cast, the multi-layered plot and in depth story, make for a great experience. 5 out of 5.
This review was first published in the Nov. 30, 2012 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News