The Spielberg-directed drama telling the tale of the great emancipator’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment provides an intriguing, if unexpected look at the entrails of the democratic process in civil war-era North America. In the true-to-life style of Schindler’s List, it represents another excellent directorial feat from a matured blockbuster film maker. There is so much to say about this movie, I doubt I will be able to fit it all in.
The opening scene has us join Abe in a slightly implausible chat with some of the soldiers fighting for the union. At once it sets the stage for the tale to be told, but had me worried that the rest of the movie would be filled with over-cooked Hollywood reverence and patriotism. Thankfully, my concerns were unfounded and although the film has the production values of a blockbuster, it does not attempt to fit the mould of recent times. Spielberg has made no attempt to cram our cortices with adrenaline just to hold our attention, but thankfully uses his skill as a director and the excellent script to keep us riveted. The plot of the film is nuanced, and may be somewhat daunting and inaccessible to those who have little knowledge of the subject matter or Constitutional law, but methinks that is an even better reason to watch this film. If you are expecting Civil War-style action, then you will be disappointed. That is, until you become engrossed in the far more cerebral tale on offer. Sub-plots involving Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field, Forrest Gump) and Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper) lend some additional meat to the film, but fail to really make themselves relevant to the overall narrative. And that is the only real criticism I can muster – and it isn’t really very important.
I must admit that the poster showing Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) as Lincoln drew me to this film, as the likeness was so impressive. In fact, the same can be said of almost all the cast. As usual, Day-Lewis does a marvellous job of portraying the great man, displaying a humour and compassion that warms your heart. You will wish he was you’re Grandad. The ensemble cast must be one of the finest I have ever seen with Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black) as the formidable Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as Seward and a brilliant James Spader (The Secretary) as W.N. Bilbo to name but a few. Comic geeks will enjoy seeing Jackie Earl Haley (Rorschach, Watchmen) as Alexander Stephens. This is the polar opposite of the terrible casting seen in Lawless. To a man (or woman), the performances were excellent; I could rant for pages about that alone.
What of the scripting? There is good, acceptable scripting and then there is scripting. This is surely of the latter variety. Particularly in the case of Lincoln himself. His monologues are worthy of the best of Lincoln’s actual speeches, and Day-Lewis delivers them with true skill – I occasionally found myself in wonderment at their depth and appropriateness, which seemed so effortless. Tommy Lee Jones also delivers perfectly lines which do justice to the belligerent, sarcastic style of the true Thaddeus Stevens. The style of language befits the age, but unlike the variety seen classics such as Deadwood, it is easily understood and does not feel stilted or put-on. That must be the first time I have seen that achieved in an American production.
I have little doubt that Lincoln will win an Oscar or two, and equally as little doubt that it surely deserves to do so. The subject matter invites it, but the final product demands it.
Lincoln is at cinemas now.
9.5/10 – Uber-tastically Awesome