MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Historical Drama/ Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, Bruce McGill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Walton Goggins, Jared Harris, Jackie Earle Haley, Adam Driver, David Oyelowo, Lukas Haas, Dane DeHaan/ Runtime: 150 minutes
I feel it must be said that whenever word gets out that Steven Spielberg is back at the helm of a new movie, everyone from the ordinary film watcher all the way to us film reviewers tend to get very excitable. However if you were also to add into the mix Spielberg getting to work once again with long-time colleague Kathleen Kennedy, a truly all-star cast led by acting legend Daniel Day-Lewis, and have it be a film that revolves around about perhaps the most admired and respected President in American History and you have a classic in the making. Yet I can honestly say that, upon watching it, Lincoln has all these fine qualities and a whole lot more going for it. Indeed this movie isn’t just wonderful because of what I stated previously or for that matter because it is very very very difficult to really find anything genuinely awful to say about a film directed by Mr. Spielberg. Rather this is a wonderful and quite magnificent and special film because from the opening all the way to the final fade into black just before the credits start to roll, Lincoln is not only a true masterclass in the art of filmmaking, but it is also a terrific mixture of politics, history, and most importantly, humanity that only a cast with this much skill and a director with this level of talent and pedigree could bring so vividly to life in the way that this film rightfully deserved.
The plot is as follows: As that horrific and bloody conflict known as the American Civil War continues to rage between the Union and the Confederacy, the story in the movie Lincoln gets underway with the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation which declared all slaves to be free and citizens of the United States. However for states in the Confederacy to really honor and take note of the freedom of people who, up until that point and even for a long time after, been seen by many as barely if even citizens in the first place, Lincoln knew he would have to get an amendment passed which not even the Confederate states could remove from the rule books following their eventual admittance back into the Union at the end of the war whenever that may be. To that end however and if he really wanted even a shot at having such an amendment ratified, Lincoln knew he needed the majority of voters in Congress to pass such a thing. Yet despite being called into question by groups within even his own political party, Lincoln finds himself soon faced with a dire dilemma: potentially save thousands of young men by ending the war early and no amendment that ends slavery or get slavery abolished and in the process extend the war and the fighting by at least a few months if not very likely for a whole year. Thus with this dilemma at hand, it is up to Lincoln, his staff, and the rest of the Republican Party to figure out just what they stand for and what they are truly prepared to fight for when the chips are down and it’s time to either put up or shut up…..
Now the main thing that this film has going for it would have to be the fact that it has Daniel Day Lewis in the titular lead role of Lincoln himself. The reason that this is an excellent thing is because Daniel Day Lewis has the phenomenal talent of being able to completely morph himself into whomever he’s portraying 110%. Suffice it to say that in this movie, that is one attribute that manages to stay as strong as it’s ever been. Indeed in his turn here as the legendary sixteenth president of the United States, Lewis actually manages to almost become, both physically and spiritually, the man himself. Indeed even though by film’s end you might be able to get a hint of the famed thespian around the eyes and mouth regions, you nevertheless will most assuredly get the sense that you are in the same room as Abe Lincoln himself. Indeed it is almost as if the person up there on that screen is the man himself instead of yet another portrayal of one of the most renowned leaders in American history. Indeed when one observes how Lewis walks with his thin shoulders full of weariness it almost feels like you are watching someone live rather than a reenactment of how they lived. Indeed Lewis virtually becomes Lincoln the father, the husband, the orator, and the savvy politician. He also manages to brilliantly display all of Lincoln’s savviness, regret, and idealism and uses all of this to give a performance that is not only a masterclass in acting, but one that will definitely be able to stand the test of time now and forever more.
Yet as phenomenal as Lewis is in this film, he doesn’t manage to run away with the film. Indeed this is because Spielberg has wisely crafted a strong supporting cast who all do magnificent work of their own as well. Indeed this starts with Sally Field who definitely manages to go toe to toe with Lewis in a riveting portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. Indeed Field manages to do a remarkable job of showcasing a woman who is both heartbroken and also traumatized yet doesn’t have the full mental capacity to really handle it as well as she could yet is still able to love her husband dearly and stand up for him should the situation call for it. We also get astounding work from Tommy Lee Jones who is grade-A phenomenal as fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Indeed there is a defining moment within this film where Stevens, who has engaged in this noble campaign against slavery for a long time, comes to the realization that he might have to sacrifice his position should this Amendment want even a slim chance of being ratified, and when one looks at the weathered and weary face of Jones one can see the hurricane of emotions in Stevens’ soul at the very moment. I also feel that the majority of the remainder of this film’s decent size supporting cast does just as wonderfully with the material. Indeed even tinier parts such as James Spader as a slimy yet for a good cause lobbyist subtly brought onboard to help the cause by Lincoln or Hal Holbrook as a more conservative member of the Republican Party with his own particular set of demands manage to possess a vibrancy and flair all their own.
Yet it should go without saying, but I definitely that even though these performances are all truly magnificent and wonderful, they still might come up a little short if they didn’t have the back-up that only some pretty darn fantastic writing can bring to a film like this. Thankfully the screenplay in this, brought to us courtesy of a man by the name of Tony Kushner, is more than up for the challenge and is absolutely fantastic and a genuine joy to hear spoken by this talented group of thespians. Indeed this is a film which has dialogue that manages to be absolutely electrifying, witty, comical, and really insightful all at once and it manages to feel more like poetry than anything else when spoken aloud by the actors. I also feel that this is one movie which has some of the most gorgeous cinematography I have ever seen. Yet the most astonishing thing is that the cinematography possess a, not that much different from Lewis’ take on Lincoln, a subtle majesty about it. Indeed it’s not very bold and standoffish from a visual standpoint, and yet there will nevertheless be certain moments from the film that will remain in your mind for a long, long time to come…
Finally I feel a lot of praise must go to the various make-up as well as looking from the time period haircuts, mustaches, and beards on the numerous male thespians in this film are so carefully done that it really does feel like the characters themselves just stepped straight from the pages of 19th century history and back into the land of the living courtesy of this movie being played on your TV’s. Yet even with such wonderful and deserved commendations being put upon the wonderful team of both hair stylists as well as makeup artists that worked tirelessly on this cinematic outing, I feel that my prior comments may have implied that the rest of the filmmaking crews just manage to deliver nothing more than a sense of tediousness to the goings-on occurring on screen. Let it be known then that from a technical point of view that this film is truly a marvel from the wonderful cinematography all the way to the incredibly drawn-out production design that really will make an audience member feel as if they are truly back in Washington DC during the time of the Civil War. Thus I think it is absolutely accurate to say that this film really truly has had the pleasure of being crafted with the utmost respect for the time period as well as skill in making us feel like we are back in that time period rather than watching a recreation.
All in all Lincoln was one of the crucial must-see films of 2012 and remains a must-see to this very day. Indeed through the creation of this film, one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history has managed to give us as a movie-viewing audience the best in memoriam for one of the most inspiring leaders of all time. Indeed the best comparison I can give you movie goer in terms of bio-pics is that the movie about Lincoln is to Steven Spielberg like the movie about Gandhi was to Sir Richard Attenborough. The thing that ties these 2 movies together being that they are more about significant instances in history that either involved those people or that those people had an hand in bringing about instead of just a straight-up history lesson. Thus I will wrap this review up by saying that if you see this movie, and I really hope that you do, go into the movie with your ears set to listen to people from a turbulent time in this nation’s past letting us know that we as people can truly be better than who we are at this moment in time, that there are things which need to be completed because they must be completed no questions asked, and that when we as people put our heads and hearts together there are moments where, more often than not, we can do truly incredible things. On a scale of 1-5 I give Lincoln a solid 4 out of 5.