Rating: ★★★★½

Alright, so there was no way in hell I was going to skip this one in theaters. Spielberg, Daniel Day Lewis, and Abraham Lincoln; say no more I was seeing this at any and all costs, fast. Growing up in Illinois, I grew up believing Lincoln was some kind of super hero, a larger than life historical figure that represented all that is good on earth. Reading more and more about the 16th president, in my eyes, made him more human and fallible. This, however; only reinforced the fact that the man was so far ahead of his time. For he was in fact a man of flesh and blood, not some mythical hero of old only existing in the text-books of history, rumors amongst historians and whispers in the corridors of time.

No friends, Abraham Lincoln did exist, and did he ever live.

As for the current film about the man, Spielberg’s Lincoln is a sweeping historical epic centered around the man himself. Daniel Day Lewis adds another chameleon performance to his resume, capturing the beleaguered Civil-War President for everything he was and stood for. The story chronicles the final months in the life of honest Abe, in which he relentlessly pursued abolishing Slavery forever in the United States. Having barely passed the 13th amendment in the Republican controlled senate, he still needs to convince some twenty house Democrats to side with ending Slavery for once and for all.

Now, in order to do this Lincoln had to resort to some, shall we say, not so completely honest methods. He used certain methods of persuasion, like giving out seats in higher offices to the Democrats, to further his goal of getting the Amendment through. This is Washington politics we’re talking about, no man can come out completely saintly. While dealing with house cleaning, there is also the matter of the ongoing bloody Civil War. Having taking the lives of hundreds of thousands on both sides, Lincoln and the Confederates want an end to the fighting. The trouble that remains present in the mind of Lincoln is the question of national equality for Blacks. When the war ends, what will be their place in the new America?

Chances are that without legislation backing their freedom from Slavery, by another name, will still be profitable option for the Cotton dependent Southern States. The president wants peace, he is truly weary of the endless fighting that has plagued the nation for his entire term. However, he would have to wait for the amendment to pass if he is to ensure that it is enacted. The confederates cannot keep up with Northern Forces, they want a truce but without the assured abolition of slavery.  In a great scene, Lewis as Lincoln weighs these options finely and carefully to two wireless operators. How does one even have the capacity to weigh such drastic measures?

He was one of the very few who could make those hard choices and, amazingly given how much hindsight we have now, the right choices. It shouldn’t be understated how well Lincoln and the world around him comes to life in the film. Though it is a relatively, and unfortunately, short time in the game-changing political life of Lincoln it encapsulates everything about the man he was. From his strength as an orator, to his ability to joke in the darkest of times to his unparalleled resolve, Lincoln, in all his blemishes and steely gaze, comes to life. Make no mistake, Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln.

The rest of the cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Jackie Earle Haley, Joesph Gordon-Levitt and many more all add to the pedigree of the film itself. Spielberg washes out the rays of light in some interior scenes giving a grand old look to the frames. John Williams’ score comes as expected, but thankfully is muted at times giving all the dramatic weight to the characters and their words. It is those words that I would like to touch on. Pronounced and sweeping, the language is very of the time, today we might consider this style of speech to be over-the-top or too stagey. It fits well for both the time and for the type of story being told.

As it is a stage-play on screen, relying on the dialog and its expression to drive the story, but I think everyone can enjoy a well-done stage play every now and then. You’ll be transported back into the time of the Civil War and will feel the weight of not one but two nations on the shoulders of the President. How much he wanted to ensure that the American Founding Father’s decree of ‘Freedom for All’ would no longer be hypocritical. You all probably know how the story ends, but just like the titular character it is not his death that really matters, it is what he did and how he lived.

Lincoln opens in the UK on January 25th, 2013.

 

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This article was first posted on November 16, 2012