Film Review- “Lincoln” 2012
Directed by- Steven Spielberg
Running Time- 150 mins
I thought it was important when judging this historical epic about Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis in the title role and directed by Steven Spielberg, that I didn't just judge the film based on Lewis' performance alone. He is so incredible as Lincoln that his performance completely overshadows the rest of the movie. So I watched the movie again to find out whether it was the movie or just his performance by which I was so impressed.
Upon repeat viewing it is clear to see why this film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards including noms for Spielberg, supporting actress Sally Field who plays Mary Todd Lincoln and supporting actor Tommy Lee Jones who plays Thaddeus Stevens.
The movie is a classic historical drama. The images are iconic and the music by my favorite composer John Williams (who earned his 48th Oscar nomination with this film) is classic and makes the movie feel like the best picture winner it most likely will be.
This is the first time I can remember a movie directed by Steven Spielberg when his directing wasn't what stood out most in the movie. Even when the actors have been nominated for their performances in his movies- Liam Neeson in “Schindler's List”, Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan” even Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Spielberg has always been the brightest star of his films. That is just testament to how amazing Lewis' performance was.
The movie takes place in 1865, just before Lincoln is about to start his second term as President of the United States. The Civil War is nearing its end and Lincoln wants to pass the 13th amendment to the constitution and abolish slavery on the pretext that it will end the war. The truth is however Lincoln knows that the war could end without the amendment but that without the war he would lose the congressional support needed to pass the amendment.
The president's dilemma is represented by his close adviser Secretary of State William Seward, played by David Strathairn, who tells him he can have peace or the amendment but not both. Because in order to have the complete support of the Republican Party it's founder, Francis Preston Blair, played by Hal Holbrook, insists on being allowed to negotiate peace talks with the southern states in exchange for his support of the amendment. But the possibility of peace without abolition would kill support of the amendment in Congress. Not to mention that the returning slave states would never ratify such an amendment after the war and the freed slaves could return home and be placed back into slavery without the amendment.
So there is one month to get the amendment voted on and passed through the House of Representatives. But even with full Republican party support, the amendment is still 30 Democratic party votes shy of its requirement in order to pass. In order to procure those votes, Seward enlists the help of Republican party operative William Bilbo, played by James Spader and lobbyist Richard Schell, played by Tim Blake Nelson, to quietly persuade lame-duck Democrats, who lost their most recent elections and will need jobs, to vote for the amendment by offering them positions in Lincoln's second administration.
Meanwhile Lincoln has to deal with his eldest son Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (4 years in a row he has been in one of my favorite movies) who wants to leave his studies at Harvard Law School and join the army before the war is over. Lincoln understands his wants but does not want to lose another son- Lincoln lost a child during his first term as President and he and Mary still grieve over it. The subplot adds a lot to the movie because it shows how the task of ending the Civil War has personal consequence to Lincoln's family and how his desire to pass the 13th amendment stands in the way of that task. It also highlights Mary Todd's depression and allows Field her most emotional screen moments.
The genius of Lewis' performance is how he emulates Lincoln as a steady, patient persuader who knows how to operate his political landscape through negoiation while holding steadfast in his resolve to achieve this accomplishment.
From what I've read this film is not a perfect representation of history but does get as close as any dramatic film could be expected to get. Still I'm sure this film will be watched in history classes for years to come and will be considered as a great dramatic depiction of a famous historical event- one of the most famous in our nation's history.
I think that the combination of a perfect screenplay by Tony Kushner, the masterful direction by Steven Spielberg and the outstanding acting by Daniel Day Lewis (not only the best of this year and Lewis' personal best, but one of the best performances in movie history) makes this the best movie of 2012. It should be seen by everyone not only for the joy of watching Lewis but for how incredibly dramatic it depicts this moment of American history.
Film Grade- A+