Release Date: November 16th, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook
teven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” might just be a history lesson at its core, but it’s cleverly buried beneath one magnificent performance and several strong supporters. Daniel Day-Lewis utterly disappears in the title role and delivers a presence both captivating and inspiring. Not all fare as well, however, with numerous overly recognizable actors bringing a sense of amusement to their identification. When there are so many Waldos, the novelty of finding one becomes lost. Luckily, the primary contributors are engaging enough to compensate for a scattering of forced theatrics and elaborate recreations of major historical events for which most already know the outcome.
The year is 1865 and President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) continues to fight for the abolishment of slavery while the Civil War rages on. Determined to pass the Thirteenth Amendment despite strong opposition and duplicitous political maneuverings from enemies and allies alike, the president entrusts Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) with the task of securing the required votes. Hiring W.N. Bilbo (James Spader) and his associates to bribe lame duck senators into supporting his proposition, Lincoln inches closer to success. But the arrival of Confederate commissioners interested in negotiating a truce could destroy all that he’s worked for, forcing the president to wage the consequences of prolonging the war against the failure of his crucial amendment – all while elements of his personal life begin to unravel around him.
Spielberg’s recent endeavors have proven his knack for all things overdramatic, the assembling of accomplished, recognizable actors (here, rather gimmicky like “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” “New Year’s Eve,” or a Hollywood Revue; the appearance of Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader garner giggles of the wrong kind even though both roles deliver comic relief), the grandstanding of historical importance and epic deeds, and the emotional associations of heavy-hitting topics such as war and slavery. In “Lincoln,” these aspects create an educational experience where highly intelligent, spectacularly amassed dialogue frequently trumps entertainment value. Suspense and anticipation are derived from the degree of ignorance possessed by viewers (including an obligatory yet inconsequential denouement involving Ford’s Theatre), and the results of voting on the Thirteenth Amendment.
Daniel Day-Lewis once again turns in an image-altering, show-stopping performance in a role unlike any he’s tackled before. The same attention to detail that makes Lincoln’s character come to life is applied to the sets, makeup, costumes, lighting, and cinematography, each representing significant achievements in technical perfection. But while the script exudes a careful, brainy aura (one that will make viewers question the evolution of speechmaking and the dumbed down presentation of linguistics in current politics), markedly inundated with legislative and bureaucratic lingo, nothing can substitute for plot-based thematic stimulation. Historical accuracy or incorrectness is irrelevant (take for example “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” from earlier this year) if the sum of the parts can’t produce an alluring theatrical whole.
– The Massie Twins