Guest Blogger: Craig Kell
SYNOPSIS: In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) looks to try and finally get the Thirteen Amendment of the Constitution granted in order to abolish slavery. However it leads to conflict amongst the rest of the government as his cabinet attempt to land key votes in order to ensure the amendment goes ahead.
Like most cinematic biopics, Lincoln continues the trend of focusing on the personal challenges of its central character as Abraham Lincoln is not seen as this grand statue that historians have associated him as but instead is depicted as a real man who questions his actions while surrounded by his loyal advisors. The theme of family, something which Spielberg has always highlighted in his previous films, is also touched upon as Tony Kushner’s majestic and dialogue-heavy script gives us a chance to see how the event affects Lincoln’s personal relationships with Mary Todd and Robert. Fortunately Kushner doesn’t go too sentimental with that sub-plot and makes the amendment the main priority while Spielberg’s hardworking production team are able to rebuild a tumultuous period in American history whether it be the old-fashioned costumes or the use of dark shadows for the interior scenes. There is also the important contribution made by Spielberg’s loyal composer John Williams as he provides an engaging score which may not rank amongst his best but shows that he is still a musician on top of his game. Further immense power comes from Spielberg’s marvelous cast led by the flawless Daniel Day-Lewis as he delivers another exquisite performance in his titular role as the President. Given the few films he has done in a career spanning almost thirty years, he manages to inhabit a complex performance which commands authority and at times, rare moments of anguish. Sally Field gives fierce support as Lincoln’s deranged wife who, despite her loyalty to her husband, struggles to overcome the traumatic loss of their son Winnie while Tommy Lee Jones brings his usual authoritative style to his character Thaddeus Stevens whilst conveying a mixture of warmth and charisma. Given the size of the overwhelming support cast, there are too many well-known actors to talk about though the other stand-outs range from David Strathairn’s loyal secretary of state William Seward to James Spader’s robust henchman Bilbo.
However Spielberg does lose focus when it comes to Lincoln’s sub-plot with his son Robert and the disjointed ending. With the former, young Hollywood actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a little wasted and feels more like a filler role compared to his recent films. The final five minutes also threatens to derail the film which could have easily ended on a high but instead, Spielberg opts to carry on and depict the end of Lincoln’s life which leaves an unsettling feeling that almost takes away the inspirational mood we had experienced a few scenes earlier.
But despite its manipulative ending, Spielberg’s fascinating and masterful drama delivers an important message about how times have changed greatly in America since the dark days of history when all men weren’t seen as equal.