For the past several years, Steven Spielberg’s films haven’t excited me as much as they used to. Despite its Best Picture nomination, last year’s War Horse didn’t do anything for me. It was no surprise that I went into Lincoln hesitantly, definitely not expecting to love it as much as I did. And wow, did I love it! Lincoln is an emotional, important, and spectacularly acted and written piece of cinema.
Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich) take us to the few weeks before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He had just been re-elected and is trying to abolish slavery for good, while seeing an end for the Civil War. Even after years of battle, abolishing slavery is still a very difficult feat, and Lincoln uses every means possible to get the 13th Amendment passed. All the while, we see how he interacts with his family, especially his wife, played with the right amount of hysterics by Sally Field.
Lincoln gives us a truly moving and interesting portrait of one of America’s greatest presidents. Kushner’s script is fantastic. It’s not a full-on biopic but a small glimpse into Lincoln’s life. That small glimpse is incredibly telling of the kind of man he was, and why he’s so revered up to this day. The story focuses on the abolishment of slavery and getting Congress to pass the amendment. It gives it a thrilling quality, again making it feel less and less like a biopic. In addition, the movie is filled with clever, fast and passionate dialogue. (I adored the president’s little “anecdotes.”) One of my biggest worries was that it would feel too much like a history lesson or worse: be terribly boring. It is neither. Sure, if you don’t know much about how slavery was abolished, you’ll definitely learn some things. (And I bet this movie will make its way in to many high school American History curriculums.) However, like I mentioned, the fact that it’s more like a political thriller than anything else hardly makes it boring.
Spielberg finally reminds me of why he’s one of the best in the industry. He crafted something great with Lincoln. Those quiet moments when Kushner’s words weren’t filling our ears felt so profound and sweeping, and not in a cheesy or overly-sentimental way. When they were debating and arguing, his cuts gave the extra emotional punch the scenes needed. Of course, there are some obvious Spielberg markings, especially in the way the film ends, and it fits so appropriately with this story.
Now, the acting… where to begin? Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal as President Abe. As expected as it is, he delivers the best performance this year so far. His transformation is flawless, and I couldn’t help but be in awe at times. Sally Field is also incredible and should get more recognition for performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, a mother still grieving the loss of one of her sons. Tommy Lee-Jones is another performance to note, playing a radical congressman, hell-bent on passing the thirteenth amendment. His final scene is just so good and unforgettable. David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, and James Spader also star and give noteworthy performances.
We’ve never seen a movie depict Lincoln so fully until this one. It’s one of those movies that will resonate with the viewer on many levels. As someone who was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln (Illinois), I’ve learned and been told about Abraham Lincoln numerous times throughout my life. In ways, he felt almost mythical. After watching Lincoln, it finally hit how real this remarkable man was.
Rating: 9/10 stars
Lincoln is now playing in select cities. It hits theaters everywhere on Friday, November 16th.