Let’s kick this thing off with a confession; I’ve spent the whole of my adult life thinking Abraham Lincoln was a democrat. Let that sink in (I never believed he was a vampire hunter so I’m not a complete idiot). That goes someway to explaining how much I know or care about 19th century American politics. So what would a person like this get out of Lincoln? Quite a lot as it turns out.
Lincoln is a political drama based on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Its a detailed, talky and roughly accurate historical pic directed by Steven Spielberg who’s last film was about a man with PTSD who falls in love with a horse as far as I can remember. The movie chronicles an important month in the president’s life where he tries to abolish slavery. Will he succeed? Will he live to tell the tale? Will he wear a big hat? Lincoln answers all these questions and more.
Much has been made of the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as the title character and this is wholly justified. Without descending too far into hyperbole, you sometimes forget you’re watching an actor and feel like Lincoln is on screen. Always the method actor, Day-Lewis travelled back through time to 1865 to prepare for the role (citation needed) and this comes across in every tick and gesture in his portrayal. This massive presence almost overshadows every other actor so its with extra credit that Tommy Lee Jones rises above this in a tremendous part as Thaddeus Stevens, a political firebrand who wants full rights for slaves . He adds layers of pathos to his usual grumpy old bastard persona and almost steals the film.
Its not all perfect though, the side story of Lincoln’s eldest son returning from college seems superfluous to the main story and tends to bloat an already long running time. The political mechanics can be confusing for those not familiar with american politics but that’s just nit-picking and does little to spoil any enjoyment.
Spielberg keeps things moving along briskly and keeps the camera relatively still so the audience can concentrate on the dialogue. The production design is beautiful which helps in a film that takes place mainly in poorly lit rooms. The attention to detail means there is always something interesting to look at if you can take your eyes off the big man himself. The main feat of the movie is how it never becomes sentimental or jingoistic but keeps mainly to the facts and finds its purpose in the abolition of slavery without smashing a message over your head.
Overall Lincoln is recommended to anyone with a passing interest in history or to anyone wanting to experience an acting masterclass. A great film about a fascinating man and it’ll win 7 Oscars, you can quote me on that.