Spielberg has finally delivered his long gestating Lincoln film and while it’s not an all encompassing look at the 16th President’s life, it displays the reason why he is considered one of the greatest Presidents in our Nation’s history.
The film’s focus is mostly on a one month period in our country’s history when Lincoln had to do whatever he had to, to get the 13th Amendment passed through congress, outlawing slavery across the nation. Based partially off the book “Team of Rivals,” the film examines Lincoln and his Chief of Staff’s attempt to rally not only their own party, but a few of the opposing Democrats on the other side. The process isn’t a clean or easy one and Lincoln must keep his cards so close to his chest that even his most trusted individuals can not know what he is holding.
When Lincoln isn’t pulling the strings around The White House he is dealing with those other people in his life around him, the struggles in his family and showing why he is such a magnetic presence everywhere he went. As exciting the arguments in the House of Representatives can get, it’s those smaller moments of Lincoln telling stories and dealing with people one on one that really stand out among the picture. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic as always as the President and its one of those turns where you forget you’re watching a performance. He nestles in and shows this human side of the President that you don’t really get to see as Presidents are usually seen as larger than life. The warmth and kindness Day-Lewis gives off is intoxicating at times and is a big part of the film’s secret weapon, its humor.
The film has a wonderful sense of humor and it’s not nearly as serious of a tale as the trailers are making it out to be. This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have powerful moments of drama, it’s full of them, but there is a really fun through line throughout the picture that is perfectly balanced against the emotional stakes that the film is dealing with. This is one of the smallest film’s in Spielberg’s filmography as the proceedings are mostly isolated to only a couple of locations, but the behind the scenes look into the world of politics is as compelling as you could hope for. Spielberg also easily keeps the amazing cast of actors from getting confusing behind all of that facial hair as he and Tony Kushner are able to create a diverse cast of characters for the cast to play in.
And oh what a cast it is. Daniel Day-Lewis is just the tip of the iceberg here as his amazing work is supported by many of the best working actors today. John Hawkes, James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson play a trio of vital roles that bring both comedy and Democratic votes to the film. Tommy Lee Jones, David Costabile and David Strathairn are great as Lincoln’s Republican allies. Jones and Strathairn in particular are two of the films supporting standouts that both have to make sacrifices and feel betrayal at the hands of Lincoln’s goals. Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also great at providing some domestic drama for Day-Lewis to play off of and I almost wish we got a bit more time with these two as I feel like we didn’t really touch base with them enough. There are countless other great character actors in the film as well and you will constantly find yourself saying, “They’re in this movie too?”
Daniel Day-Lewis does stand out above the rest of the cast as Lincoln and his quiet command of the screen is amazing to watch. Even when he gets frustrated Day-Lewis keeps his Lincoln completely in control, but somehow seems like he is breathing fire at the same time. And I can’t overstate those storytelling moments he gets to have a couple times throughout the film. Day-Lewis nails the comedic timing and enraptures the audience both on and watching the screen and I never would have expected Lincoln to have such a sense of humor.
Spielberg’s craft is as sharp as ever and while the scope of the picture is miniscule compared to his entries last year things still look fantastic. I do wish there was more of John Williams score to enjoy, but outside of that there isn’t a lot to complain about. The production is impeccable, the camera inspired and the film moves right along in its two and a half hour run time.
Lincoln is a great portrait of politics and the way one of our greatest Presidents played the game. The film is impeccably acted and Spielberg delivers one of the finest crafted films of the year. Funny, thrilling and full of surprises, Lincoln is bound to entertain and teach you a little history from one of our countries darkest hours. The film is also especially timely and could serve as an excellent lesson for our now second term president Barack Obama and how to handle his Congress in these coming years.
Lincoln is an A-