Steven Spielberg has been gestating his Lincoln film for some time, but the result doesn’t take the typical Lincoln biofilm. The biggest detriment may be the dialogue driven nature of the film, but the greatest asset is the man in the stovepipe hat who so becomes the president that he won an Oscar.
The Civil War has given President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) expanded war powers. This has led some to think of him as a tyrant. He is trying to use his momentum and powers to get the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, pushed through with the help of crusty congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn).
Meanwhile Lincoln’s son Robert Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to join the military as so many are doing, but Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) doesn’t want her son in the war, never mind that youngest son Tad (Gulliver McGrath) wears a mini-uniform and drives a miniature horse pulled carriage around the White House.
Republican Party founder Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) is trying to broker a peace deal with the South, but Lincoln can’t let that happen before the 13th amendment is voted upon.
Lincoln allows another opportunity for Daniel Day-Lewis to disappear into a role as well as add another Academy Award to his belt. This time he is taking on the role of one of the most beloved presidents of these United States, not that they were very united through his term.
I don’t think I’m telegraphing too big of a spoiler here when I say that Lincoln’s departure from office was a very sad occasion. Steven Spielberg had been gestating this project for some time (when I first heard about it Liam Neeson was slated for Honest Abe) and the resulting film took a different tack than you usual Lincoln film.
The main thrust of the film is the passing of the 13th amendment, so there’s lots of arguing in Congress - certainly histrionic almost Shakespearian rhetoric but essentially many people standing around hurling dialogue at one another. Other films concentrate on the “hits” of Lincoln’s history and even through in some battle scenes (Spielberg’s does as well but it’s at the very beginning and out of the way) but it’s usually covered from log cabin to Ford’s theater.
Spielberg’s not so much so, and perhaps that’s for the better because we perhaps we expect to see those things and Spielberg throws us a bit of a curve. Day-Lewis however dominates the role in a quiet, homespun way. Other actors make Lincoln part of the “ages” that he will return to after Ford’s theater, but Day-Lewis gives him a soft voice and soft side.
The voice was open to much debate, but many contemporaries say that it was almost shrill. We’ll really never know since it was a decade after Lincoln that recording became available.
I thought that Day-Lewis’ delivery had a charm that I’d associate with Lincoln, world weary as well as up to telling a funny story. He certainly deserved the best actor award, but Lincoln is a film full of grand performances from the grouchy Jones to Field’s paranoid Mary Todd. Action film it is not, but a feeling of history of watching history is certainly had.
Lincoln is presented in a 1080p transfer (2.40:1). Special features are more expansive on this four disc edition. Disc one has the 9 minute “Journey to Lincoln” about how the project was born and the 4 minute “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia” about shooting in the famous city.
Disc two has the 10 minute “In the company of Character” about performance, the 11 minute “Crafting the Past” about production design, the 27 minute “Living with Lincoln” about staying as true to history of possible, and the 17 minute “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” about making it all come together and scored. Disc three is a DVD copy and disc four is a digital copy.
Lincoln makes you feel as if you were there for the 13th amendment, maybe not exactly a cradle to grave Lincoln biopic but Day-Lewis gives both a feeling of both respect and humanity to the stoic president. His performance is one for the ages and Spielberg offers us a compelling history lesson.
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