Thursday, November 15

Lincoln Review

Dir: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field,
Tommy Lee Jones, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The life of an iconic historical figure the likes of Abraham Lincoln offers moments of grandeur and speeches bursting with hubris, and in Steven Spielberg’s exceptional film those elements are ever present, but so is the other side of the penny. Lincoln excels at showcasing the humanity and humility of a man guiding a country in the darkest of times, but more impressively the cunning and, at times, conniving nature of a man fighting for what he believes is right amongst a conspiring political system.

Lincoln begins with the distinctive lines from the Gettysburg Address recited amidst a torn battlefield that echoes another Spielberg battle if for only a mere moments. This introduction forwards to the silhouette of a haggard and hunched Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) sharing stories with a racially diverse group of Union soldiers. What seems to start as a dynamic war drama very soon settles down into mid-19th century America with costume plumage, horse drawn carriages, and dingy, dirty early settlements. However, it is far more than just design and a character study. What transpires over the course of the nearly 150 minute film is an examination of early American legislature that composes in the form of a thriller, though the audience is well aware of the outcome.

Framed within Lincoln’s second turn as President, the war has turned in favor of the Union and the 13th amendment is being guided to legislature. Lincoln knowing the scale that the abolishment of slavery would have on humanity, but also the war, is met with anger and indecision from both party affiliates.

It’s within these moments that the narrative aspects of Lincoln shine brightest. The spectacle of argument and opinion is well written by Tony Kushner. Spielberg’s direction is especially brilliant in delicate ways. There are moments when the brash bantering within the representative court is consuming in its’ exhaustive eloquence, yet Spielberg is keen to keep the film paced. It’s an interesting counterpart to have Lincoln’s ponderings, which seem bursting with wisdom though they are nothing more than verbose yarns, accompany the maddening threats of nearly everyone else.

These wonderfully written speeches and diatribes wouldn’t hold weight without the stellar cast. Daniel Day-Lewis is spectacular in so many ways; the body mechanics and the soft-spoken vocal influence are just two of the defining means Day-Lewis brings Lincoln to life. Sally Field is confident and hysterical as Mary Todd Lincoln, her emotional turmoil over letting her son Robert Todd Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enlist in the war is touching. Tommy Lee Jones plays powerful abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens with an equal amount of disdain and honorability. It is a particular challenge to meet expectations when Day-Lewis is so good, but for the most part the cast meets the challenge.

Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography utilizes a mix of browns and greys combined with soft-edged focuses to keep the environments teeming with realism.  It’s interesting to see the landscapes captured with unflinching grime.

Though the film moves along quite well, it becomes indecisive on when to find a stopping point. This complaint seems minuscule in the scheme of it all, but finding an ending is difficult, and important, in a film so historically familiar.

Lincoln is a splendid film, equally portraying the shining and dark moments of history and the political process, while showing the wisdom of a man looking beyond the current towards the future.

Monte’s Rating
4.25 out of 5.00

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