Sunday, November 18, 2012


Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln
**** out of ****

Steven Spielberg was a cinematic hero in my earliest years as a movie geek. As I got older, I began hear and read opinions from a possibly more sophisticated audience who dismissed his work as sheer spectacle. Even when he moved away from fantasy adventure films and into more dramatic materiel, there was still an element of criticism that he was a manipulative director who had the audacity to tell the audience how to feel. To that, I say that art is manipulation.

In Lincoln, Spielberg has wisely made a film that intimately follows the famous president during the last few months of his life. What could have been a convoluted birth-to-death biopic is instead a story set over a small passage of time that provides a movie’s worth of materiel and an excellent character study.

It is partly based on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and written for the screen by Tony Kushner. Kushner worked with Spielberg before on the excellent 2005 film Munich and won the Pulitzer Prize for his play, Angels in America.

Here is an interview with him on Fresh Air. 

It revolves around Abraham Lincoln trying to end the Civil War and his battle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, while trying to maintain a family life at the same time. Daniel Day-Lewis provides an unconventional performance as the sixteenth president with a soft-spoken delivery and not the deep vocal projection we expect from actors playing great men. I don’t need to tell you how good he is in this role.

Here's an interview with Daniel Day-Lewis.

The cast of characters is gigantic. I am curious how history buffs will take to this film because it is tailored for them. Me? I was trying really hard to keep up with everyone (I’m definitely seeing this movie again). I don’t have room to list the great actors -and the characters they play, but I will stop to talk about a highlight performance by Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens whose radical support of abolition and equal rights is compromised in order to give the proposed amendment leverage.

I have too many congratulations to give this very rich film. Above all, Spielberg has continued his legacy as one of our greatest living directors who can bare the responsibility of such an important subject: A president working with a divided nation –which feels very relevant today.

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