There are so very few great storytellers in our generation. So many of the films that fill our theaters are just generic dull sequels or adaptations and a lot of the time these films become forgotten because another sequel or adaptation comes along. Once in a while however there are a few films that make it through the cracks. Hit the jump for the full review of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
The film was never intended to be a full on biopic of Lincoln’s life, instead Spielberg directed a piece that would focus on the last four months of the 16th President’s life. Daniel Day-Lewis would play as the 16th President of the United States where he would spend last four months of his life bringing end the Civil War peacefully, earn enough votes to pass the Emancipation Proclamation – which would bring an end to slavery – while trying to convince his Republican party brethren that this would be good for the face of America, and try to inspire America to rally together to become one true unified nation.
History tells us that Lincoln did get the necessary votes to pass the bill, which brought an end to both Slavery and the Civil War. But rarely do we ever see a film cover the sheer determination and amount of work that these parties put into to make sure that they are speaking for their people. Battle lines are quite literally drawn, and not only does Lincoln have to convince the stubborn Democrats, but also the people within his own party.
So there aren’t any vampires, no aliens to destroy, no macguffin to focus on, we all know what happens in the last four months of Lincoln’s life. The only thing is, Spielberg is transferring the text (based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of “Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”) into a film format. We would never know how Lincoln sounded in real life, all the knowledge we could ever gain from him are from the books we read. So any of the mannerism you see from President Lincoln seem to coincide with what we have read. Day-Lewis seem to be perpetuating what it is to be a president during times of crisis. Motivating his party with speeches, stories, and challenges to become better people.
We see Lincoln struggling to bring order to the political atmosphere and balance the struggles within the family as well. Not once does Day-Lewis’ performance as the President falter, it keeps going, powering on through no matter what obstacle stands before him. Lincoln literally stands tall to any that oppose him or that question his morals and ethics. But it isn’t in a defensive or demeaning way, he does it with tact and diplomacy. Though there are other performances to consider, the supporting cast that people should be really focused on are Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.
Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln. Women during that time did exactly have the same powers as they do now, but it looked like Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln was a woman who wasn’t just some simple housewife. While possessing strong convictions and heart, she also has a few vulnerabilities. In the film she is overwhelmingly depressed after the losing her son to the Civil War, and has she struggles to cope with this loss, she also must come to terms with her other son’s desire to fight in the war.
Lee Jones also gives an absolutely engrossing performance as Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens. The man who has fought for equality for all people living within the United States but deeply opposed Lincoln’s soft law and demanded that there been changes added in order for the equality to become stronger. Without his unnerving motivation, Stevens may not have been able to get the support necessary to pass.
For the sake of run time, there are a few characters that go underused, but for the most part, Spielberg makes the most of it. For instance, while the film isn’t necessarily focused on the war itself, it does give us a few glimpses of the excellent Jared Harris as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also makes an appearance in the film as Lincoln’s oldest son Robert. While it was a descent performance, there just wasn’t enough time to get a read on his character.
As usual John Williams creates a great and powerful score, anything less about be astonishingly surprising. William’s score weaves into the emotions so effortlessly and is able to draw you into the film itself.
However, the film can be bogged down by the unnecessary use of comedy in the most inappropriate places. While it does lighten the mood, its use does have a tendency to cut the emotion of the film in the wrong place. This is noted by the comedic subplot carried on by James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson. Though the three have excellent chemistry, one can’t help but feel that whenever they show up, it’s only for comedic purposes. However it does pick itself up after and continues on forward to tell the most important chapter of the history of the United States.
Lincoln isn’t some sort of tale with heavy action, it’s a film that sheds light on the turning point for America. The law that must be passed would have an affect on generations to come.
Lincoln opens in limited theaters on November 9th, and expands into wide release on November 16th.