Lincoln, the newest film from legendary director Steven Spielberg, is a biopic that follows the last four months of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, during which he struggles to end the civil war and pass the 13th Amendment which would abolish slavery.
Lincoln is played magnificently by Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis, he is joined by Sally Field who plays his wife Mary Todd, and Tommy Lee Jones who plays Thaddeus Stevens and steals every scene he is in. There are also small roles played by John Hawkes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and James Spader. There are almost too many people and stars to name and you feel like some of these big names get short changed on their screen time.
That being said, they all turn in great performances and the direction is laid back and almost un-noticeable. It was like Spielberg realized the talent he had and decided to let them work almost like a stage play. The highlights though were clearly Day-Lewis, Field, and Jones.
Tony Kushner’s script, based in part on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” is superb. It is both light on its feet with moments of laugh out loud comedy, yet still loaded with political jargon that will make history buffs fall in love. If there is one flaw it is that Lincoln isn’t featured enough during some parts, which is a credit to how good Daniel Day Lewis is. I wanted to see more of that character because Day-Lewis was Lincoln, any new portrayal of Abraham Lincoln will just be that actor impersonating Daniel Day Lewis’ performance. From the hunched walk, to the high-pitched voice, to the constantly pained look on his face, this is the definitive version of President Abraham Lincoln on film.
The best parts of the movie were the intimate moments with Lincoln and one or two other people. His ability to relate to almost anyone because he always had a story on hand ready to dish out, whether the other party wanted to hear it or not is legendary and I’m glad Kushner and Spielberg were able to work it into the film.
One of the things that plagued Warhorse, Spielberg’s last film, was his over use of John Williams’ beautiful yet overbearing score. Every scene we were bombarded with musical cues of how we were supposed to feel, leaving many people feeling manipulated by the end when they got misty eyed over a horse.
This time around, Spielberg all but abandons Williams’ score especially when Lincoln is speaking and you have to listen very closely to hear it during other parts of the film. This once again plays to the idea of the movie being like a stage play on the big screen. Light touches of music in the right areas to underscore a point are much more effective than blaring the violins and flutes in every scene.
You have to know what you’re going to get when you see Lincoln. If you’re misinformed or expecting something different you could be disappointed and call it boring. However, if you go into it knowing that it is an attempt to tell the story of how the 13th Amendment was passed through Congress, yet also a look at Abraham Lincoln, the man behind closed doors, you will really enjoy what Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis deliver here.