As it’s awards season, it stands to reason that the more “arty” movies are opening. But, I find the mainstream films that appeal to a broad slice of the populace and are art in and of themselves, without the need for the reductive quotation marks, to be far more appealing and such in the case with “Lincoln.”
Focusing on the end of his presidency, and subsequently his life, “Lincoln” is the story of the passing of the 13th amendment the end of
The Civil War and a President who is desperate to save his country. While the story is our history (even though the history may not be 100% accurate…) the immediacy of the fight in this story is almost oppressive. The weight of the decisions these characters are making are quite literally changing the world before your eyes. And, while its presented in a way anyone can follow it never feels dumbed down.
But, as the story holds no surprises to a modern audience, the film hangs on the performances Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field are, frankly, incredible and the President and First Lady Mary Todd-Lincoln. Day-Lewis particularly plays Lincoln as a man, not the icon he’s become. When modern audiences are most familiar with Lincoln as the audio-animatronic figure in Disney’s Hall of Presidents, Day-Lewis’ performance could have easily diverged into caricature and never once did. Field as well played a woman who was at once strong and broken. And as a couple their relationship is not only real but they play the pressure they’re under, the strain is clear and when the pressure builds to boiling over the scene is electrifying.
Every performance is top-shelf- owning to the prestige factor of the film and director Steven Spielberg- from the smallest soldier or aide to the bigger roles. Pay particular attention to James Spader as lobbyist William N. Bilbo, the “comic relief” of the piece, and Lee Pace as vehemently anti-amendment Representative Fernando Wood. Both actors are standouts among a cast of standouts.
Spielberg is a master director. Translating what could be charitably called a dense script into a film that flows this easily is a talent few have. To coax even these talented actors to this level of performance as well merely proves why Spielberg is in the highest echelons of film making. Regardless of the potentially wonky history (for example, some of the House members who voted “nay” had their names changed in the film to spare their decedents potential embarrassment-but this is a drama not a textbook) I believe that this film will be shown in schools some day right alongside other Civil War era films like “Glory” or “North and South.”
It’s not that “Lincoln” is a perfect film, it has issues particularly in terms of pacing, but what it does right it does better than most. It’s a cliche to say of a film that you’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you’ll thrill even though it’s totally true in this case. But, at the core, it’s a film about a man. Historically that man is one of the most important in American history, but at the time of this film he’s just a man working to build his legacy and in this compressed period of time you can tell that his legacy as well as the legacy of the film that bears is name is assured. A