Bravo Steven Spielberg. Bravo Tony Kushner. Bravo Daniel Day-Lewis. And kudos to the rest of the cast. Lincoln, a persuasive but elegant film specifically focused on the passing of the 13th Amendment, will go down as one of the greatest and most important films in cinematic history.
I was extremely concerned and hesitant with Lincoln, and it all started with Steven Spielberg. Don’t get me wrong, Spielberg will always be my favorite director of all time. His resume is untouchable in both critical and financial success. But lately, his films have garnered a different response as his films have taken a completely different attitude. It all started with The Terminal, something that was good but not Spielbergesque, but understanding not every film is going to be a complete masterpiece. Then Munich, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and finally War Horse. There isn’t much to say about his last few films except that are very challenging and difficult films to direct. The praised director is not a writer, so you can only so far with a struggling script, but specifically with War Horse, it was a film that felt misguided and too “preachy”. I’m a Social Studies and History major, so for me to feel bored and uninterested in a Hollywood film says enough. So when Spielberg’s next project was based off our 16th President, I was expecting more War Horse prequel then astounding classic.
Doing a film on Abraham Lincoln is so difficult and unapproachable that Spielberg had to understand that there was no room for error. From the script, the mannerisms, and even the sound of his carriage, everything had to be precise and perfect. And if not, the history gods would send the wrath of 1000 nerds, including myself, as if there’s one figure you must get accurately, it is our dear Abraham Lincoln.
How dare I doubt Spielberg?
Lincoln is primarily focused on the final months of Lincoln’s life, centering around the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives. Battling Congress, his cabinet and even his own family at times, Abraham Lincoln pushes for the complete emancipation of slaves before the war ends knowing that if this does not get passed, slavery will continue. The choice to focus on this and only this in Lincoln’s Presidency and pretty much his life is a bold and daring move. But what’s so important about emphasizing this specific time in Lincoln’s life is that this is most likely his biggest contribution to America. The man alone is an example to all in many different areas as his importance to family and the way he treats all individuals. But this, the passing of the 13th Amendment, is where Lincoln’s legacy will always sustain.
The film does a tremendous job of staying on task. If you’re going to do a movie about Lincoln and the 13th Amendment, then hell, stay on the 13th Amendment. There is plenty of room for the film to go on a tangent, but it stays course the entire time. That doesn’t mean that we don’t witness other characters and Lincoln’s involvement with other individuals outside of the 13th Amendment. We see plenty of sides of Lincoln; the troubled, stressed, the family man. But all interactions are based upon the importance of the 13th Amendment, the Civil War and the purpose of why the nation is in such a terrible state. The film concentrates and fully delivers on its promise of delivering the push of the 13th Amendment, and how Lincoln’s Presidency was defined by it.
But obviously, nothing will be successful in a Lincoln biopic if Lincoln is not performed in a perfected reenactment, but being fully aware that Daniel Day-Lewis, proclaimed as the greatest actor of our time (I agree), is fulfilling the shoes, there were absolutely no concerns. And when you see the masterful performance on screen, you don’t see Daniel Day-Lewis in some pretty convincing make-up, no you witness President Lincoln in all his glory. Lewis so committed and fully developed into the President, and instead of trying to be a deep, resonating voice that we all think Lincoln was, Lewis goes for accuracy.
I’m no Lincoln expert, but I appreciate that the truth played out the public belief. We witness a man who is humble but confident in his beliefs. We witness a father who has love and tenderness, but also struggle with past failures and pain. We see a President scarred by the war and being the man who arguably led 600,000 to their deaths, but also fully understands that no man has died in vain. He’s so in tune with what defined Lincoln in all phases of his life that this not a performance, this is Daniel Day-Lewis becoming Abraham Lincoln.
If you don’t know Lewis’ methodology, he fully becomes the character he plays on and off screen. He’s praised for his research and his abilities, but only because he puts complete devotion to his character. He talks to his friends and co-workers in his character, even off-screen. He is fully into the mind of his role, and that’s what separates him from the rest. And you can clearly see the amount of effort and tireless determination Lewis brings to the screen. There’s nothing short of astounding work here. I honestly didn’t think Daniel Day-Lewis could ever top his performance in There Will Be Blood, but his resilience and complete focus as Lincoln will go down as one of the greatest achievements in film. The third Oscar awaits you Mr. Lewis.
Something that should be fully understood however is that though Lewis knocks it out of the park, he does not overshadow the rest of the ensemble. Though this is a lifetime career performance, the supporting roles are just as good, and might’ve enhanced Lewis’ abilities even more. This was a truly masterful film in an acting perspective. This cast is as good as it gets. David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley. This is a cast that any director would be proud to work with. They’re all truly astonishing and amazing with clear intentions on getting their role down to a precise tee.
But two supporting performances stood out than the rest. Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens deserve just as much recognition as Lewis. Both veterans in their respective field, but looking back at all their work in their seasoned careers, I don’t think I’ve seen such performances from either actors as I witnessed in Lincoln. The importance of each role is sufficient to that of Lincoln’s agenda and current situation. Stevens, a radical Republican who dares to see a nation other than complete equality, must understand Lincoln’s proposed Amendment, willing to sacrifice his own beliefs and understand change and progress does not come in quick responses. Stevens doesn’t interact with President Lincoln all too much on screen. But that’s the beauty of their relationship. Lincoln mainly struggles with the Democrats, refusing to vote for the 13th Amendment, but there’s also a small but tense situation between the radical Republicans, which Stevens is obviously the leader of, pushing for complete equality including segregation and voting rights. This is Tommy Lee Jones at his best. He’s complete aware of his performance, understanding his involvement and important part in this period film. He’s not there to just earn a paycheck a la Men In Black 3. No, this is a passion piece for Jones, and as audiences we should appreciate and adore when actors like Tommy Lee Jones steps up to the plate.
As so Sally Field. Sally Field is the most important actor other than Daniel Day-Lewis because this is where we get to see the mortal figure of Lincoln. She brings out the flaws and the struggles of our 16th President, mainly dealing with death and tragedy of their eldest son. As the First Lady, she completes the responsibilities in ways no other First Lady has ever done so before. But behind the scenes, she’s conflicted and tortured by how politics has mislead their family and if it will continue to strain the lives and their sons. Sally Field is so crucial to this film, and it’s mesmerizing to watch Lewis and Field on screen together.
Lincoln succeeds on all levels. Personally, this is the kind of movie that instills my beliefs and virtues as a citizen in the United States. Obviously I’m biased as a Social Studies and History major, so for some, this film will not be nowhere near as engaging and entertaining as it was for me, but still, you can’t take away what the film achieves. Lincoln achieves something that no other film has, and that is that America is continually growing nation. We aren’t perfect as our history will tell us. We make countless mistakes, which includes inside and outside of slavery and racism. But progress is a virtue, and a virtue our nation must hold dear no matter what generation we are currently living in.
I’ll be the first to always criticize our country from our inability to act in bipartisanship or how we sometimes forget the foundations of how this country was built through strength in the Constitution and belief in our representation, but Lincoln reminds us that progress and change is something that takes time. We must remember that it took almost 100 years between abolishing slavery and creating equal and voting rights for the same people. No matter how fast or slow, change for bettering our nation is always progress. Abraham Lincoln was graceful and an elegant man, but when it came down to his political and social views, he was relentless and merciless. He stood for what believed, even if it was taking advantage of his powers. But in the end, a righteous man will always overcome. And Lincoln is the epitome of this.
Lincoln is more than a film. It’s a reminder that we should be proud of what our country has been able to overcome and achieve through our differences and misunderstandings. Lincoln is a look at an individual who understood that the fight for freedom and the eventual outcome was more important than the constant reminders and difficulties of the process. Lincoln is a perfect example of a film completely dedicated to its material.
Lincoln receives 4 1/2 stars (out of 5). First time I’ve ever given a film more than 4 stars.