Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 5 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a film that I had been excited for for quite a long time, though I must admit that the main aspect that attracted me was the promise of a new John Williams score. However, that’s not to say that I wasn’t excited for the film itself; history fascinates me, and the story of Abraham Lincoln, arguably the finest president to ever lead our nation, was one that I was anxious to see adapted for the big screen. And at the hands of Spielberg, one of the best filmmakers of all time, what could go wrong?
The correct answer to that question is “very little.” While Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the United States’ 16th president, is not an exciting film or a film that features extended action scenes, I was fascinated throughout. To see the political process behind all of the goings-on in the House of Representatives was interesting, and the look and feel of the movie, including everything from the costumes to the sets to the screenplay, felt genuine and authentic to the time period. The film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s life and on his struggle to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the amendment that would abolish slavery in the United States, to pass in the House of Representatives. This issue was one that hit me pretty hard – to imagine people enslaving other people for personal benefit just because of a difference in skin color sickens me, to the point that I actually felt angry at moments in the film. This in itself is a testament to Spielberg’s storytelling skills and to his ability to make the audience truly care about what is happening onscreen.
The film features several fantastic performances from well-known actors. Tommy Lee Jones appears as Thaddeus Stevens, a role in which we see him once again excel at delivering amusing one-liners, but we also see a refreshing depth in character that I, having only seen Jones in two other movies previously, was not expecting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the president’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Though he doesn’t appear in much of the film, his performance is still marked with strong emotion and a powerful sense of purpose. David Straithairn and a handful of other actors also appear and do a fine job.
However, the real stars of this film are Sally Field as the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Daniel Day-Lewis as the president himself. When the two share the screen together, you feel a combination of sensations pulling you in all directions: you feel the strain that the presidency has put on their marriage, the anguish that they continue to feel over the loss of their son Willie, but, most of all, the love that they have for each other in spite of it all. Day-Lewis conveys all of the complicated emotions felt by the president, whether the emotions deal with his love and dedication to his family, his passion for equality, or the weariness that has taken over him as he struggles to mend the nation at the roughest point in our history.
With such strong performances from the lead actors, a smart script that kept me captivated throughout, and a beautifully respectful musical score by returning Spielberg collaborator John Williams, Lincoln is a film that you don’t want to miss out on. If Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t walk away from the Academy Awards with the Oscar for Best Actor, I’ll be dumbfounded. The film is sure to be nominated in several other categories as well, but don’t wait for the Academy to tell you…go see it!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – 13 – for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by John Williams, here!