Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn
Running Time: 150 mins
Release: 25 Jan
A man clothed in immense power, a bearded gent, an American treasure and above all a legendary storyteller; Steven Spielberg—who else?—hardly needs your vote. He has long surpassed the Hollywood democracy, sitting atop his celluloid tower of success, his rule more dynasty than presidency. Does it matter what anyone (beyond the academy) thinks of Lincoln? Probably not.
Those hoping for tales of a lanky young Lincoln being ridiculed by his 19th century high school chums (check out offbeat animated show Clone High if that floats your boat) will be at a loss here. Far from a biopic, the film picks up just in time for Abe to right a few last social wrongs before hitting up the local theatre. Lincoln concerns itself almost wholly with the struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, ensuring the continued freedom of slaves liberated during the soon-to-end civil war. In between the bureaucratic wrangling we get an insight into Abe’s home life as he endeavours to keep his eldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) away from the front lines while appeasing the historically hysterical Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field).
Lincoln‘s late jumping off point and commitment to congressional curmudgeonry is a prescription for assumed knowledge, though even with that in hand it’s a slightly dull affair. Despite the significance of its subject it fails to conjure much emotional resonance at all, beyond a broad love of honest Abe. Spielberg received much flack for his saccharine tale of equine emancipation War Horse, however a splash of the same wizardry here may have saved Lincoln from its own mustiness. That said there’s still plenty to be gleaned from the film’s political penchant; Lincoln’s loose interpretation of honesty and taste for brown envelopes allows the intrigue to stay afloat, if only due to its unexpected scandalousness.
Of course Lincoln‘s true allure lies less in it’s historical drama and more the transformative performance of one Mr Daniel Day-Lewis. Lewis is stretched and twisted into the Gandalfian proportions of the role, towering over his co-stars on stilts either physical or digital. His Lincoln is magnificent, a man of compassion, a graceful—though indulgent—raconteur, intimidating if only due to the power of his convictions. Not that any member of the large and recognizable cast are slouching, Sally Field makes for a tragically distressed Mrs. Lincoln while Tommy Lee Jones is practically an audience surrogate as Thaddeus Stevens, a man vocally flabbergasted at the idiocy of the age. The extended cast is brimming with recognisable character actors, allowing for a tangential game of ‘guess who?’ if the drama isn’t quite sticking.
Despite its starchy presentation—even John Williams’ triumphalism has been seriously reigned back for the sober score—there’s value in Lincoln. It’s clear that everyone working on the film had a collective vision, one that leans heavily on it’s core performances. It’s just a pity that that vision wasn’t a bit less… boring.