The presidential election is over and once again a president has been re-elected to lead the free world. Through all of the political debates and campaigns, sometimes the true nature of being president, and why we elect them, is lost. Director Steven Spielberg dug into history and brought a great example to the silver screen with his latest film, “Lincoln.”
The film, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” tells the famous story that many know the details of already, but forms it in a way that allows the audience to experience every aspect of it, from what Lincoln was dealing with in his personal life during that time, to all of the behind the scene tactics going on to ensure the amendment passes.
Daniel Day-Lewis (“Nine”) plays such a perfect Lincoln, in both his appearance and actions, that it would appear Spielberg brought Lincoln back from the dead to play the part. The role was originally cast to actor Liam Neeson (“Taken 2”), but eventually he dropped out of the project. Luckily for the film, Day-Lewis, the two-time Academy Award winner for Best Actor, proved that he could successfully bring Lincoln to life. It was a role that seemed to be made for Day-Lewis, who is known for the great devotion and research he brings to each role. The majority of the movie is dialogue-based, especially during Lincoln’s scenes when he is telling witty stories or giving elegant speeches; these scenes are vital to the movie and Day-Lewis nails each one, capturing the true essence of Lincoln in each scene.
As the film is dialogue heavy, with not much action besides the couple war scenes of the Civil War, Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner did a terrific job of making the film entertaining, even with not much going on. Much of this was accomplished by the great performances of Day-Lewis and the rest of the all-star cast Spielberg assembled, including Sally Field (“The Amazing Spider-Man”), Tommy Lee Jones (“Men in Black 3”), David Strathairn (“The Bourne Legacy”), James Spader (TV’s “The Office”), John Hawkes (“The Sessions”), Jared Harris (TV’s “Mad Men”) and many others. Along with the political seriousness of the film, there are also plenty of humorous moments. Lincoln’s stories were usually the source of the humor, but Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens and Spader playing W.N. Bilbo brought their traditional humor to the characters.
Stevens was a radical Republican Congressional leader who stood by Lincoln’s attempt to abolish slavery. His stubborn personality fits Jones’ humor perfectly, especially with his quick one-liners. Spader and his character Bilbo went hand-and-hand as well, due to his physical humor and witty remarks, which Spader brings to all of his performances.
Although she may not have been one of the more humorous characters, as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, Field played a strong role as the one person who could break Lincoln and became a major influence. Whether the characters humorous or not, they were each cast to the perfect character and played important parts throughout the film. But Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s (“Looper”) character as one of Lincoln’s sons, Robert Lincoln, did not seem to serve much purpose to the film at all. With Gordon-Levitt’s recent bigger roles, there was the expectation that the role of Lincoln’s son would be an important one, but instead it served no purpose other than him being another thorn in his parents’ side.
What assisted in helping Lincoln’s character come alive were the great visuals and attention to details for the 1865 setting. Spielberg worked his magic once again, bringing the audience back in time as if the movie was actually shot during the Civil War era. The architecture of the buildings, design of the carriages, the clothing and the furniture all stay true to the period. Even the music, composed by John Williams, meshed with each scene and the period perfectly.
Great knowledge of politics is not needed to keep up with the conversations that take place, although the source of a few jokes derives from it. The situation is explained well and is simple to follow with the basic concept being that Lincoln needs to find a way to secure enough votes from both Republicans and Democrats in order for the amendment to pass. It is not a movie for the action-driven viewer, but is a great movie that provides a terrific visual of one of the greatest accomplishments by an American president. No matter how much you may know about Lincoln or the Emancipation Proclamation, “Lincoln” brings history to life as if you are experiencing it for the first time.
Published in The Oswegonian