Considered to be one of the greatest presidents that has ever graced the United States, Abraham Lincoln, has always been a prominent figure in American culture. There have been numerous books about the man, but none more recognizable than Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Director Steven Spielberg aimed to capture one section of Team of Rivals in his biographical drama, Lincoln. Dealing only with Abraham Lincoln’s last few months, Lincoln, focuses primarily on the race to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives, which would end slavery in the United States officially.
The political and historical relevance of this film cannot be overstated. Spielberg purposefully released the film after the 2012 presidential election for a reason. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) means a lot to everyone in the modern day political sphere. Each side vying for the claim to say who Lincoln would support if he were around today.
When the film starts out we get a beautifully shot flashback scene of Abraham Lincoln speaking to troops about what they have experienced so far in the war. Spielberg uses a nice device here to recite one of Lincoln’s famous speeches to the audience. It was a nice technique that felt slightly gimmicky but somehow amazingly patriotic. Once we are pulled into present time we no longer see Lincoln as a larger than life character but rather a real man. Historically, Lincoln is said to have had a shrill voice not a booming powerful one as he is often portrayed. Spielberg went with the historical interpretation. Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice work really humanizes Lincoln. Never does Abraham Lincoln feel like a man out of an American fairy tale. Struggling to keep his intensity during the legislative fight, Lincoln often turns to his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Fields) for council and compassion. After watching this, I am not sure he could have made it without her. She is as hard nosed as a woman could be in those times, a true equal to him, but cared deeply about him and what he was trying to accomplish.
There was some levity with the political operatives that Lincoln hired to get the votes and sway some Democrats. John Hawkes and James Spader made these scenes not only hilarious, but truly memorable. So much of the film is focused on how heavy is the head of Lincoln during these times, so its nice to be able to crack a smile in between impassioned speeches. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) also had such great moments that added to the levity. However, his light comments were almost always followed by some of the greatest moments in the film. Tommy Lee Jones stole every scene he was in without hesitation. The only exception was when he was on screen with Day-Lewis.
Daniel Day-Lewis, in my opinion, is our greatest living actor. In Lincoln, you truly find out why. From the first moment you see him as Lincoln you immediately begin to forget that you are watching Day-Lewis on screen. He became Abraham Lincoln for 150 minutes. This film felt more like a documentary than a drama. The weight of the world was on Lincoln’s shoulders and Day-Lewis conveyed every ounce. As I stated earlier, his voice work was incredible. The shrillness and slow tempo made for a more dramatic effect than the booming voice style that has been used in the past. His performance sets the stage for the dramatic finale, the vote. The role call for the final votes on the 13th Amendment is one of the most powerful scenes that I have watched in quite a while. Spielberg excels at invoking an intense level of emotion at that time. Its easy to get overwhelmed. There is a sigh of relief after you watch what not only Lincoln went though, but everyone else involved and affected went through. There is a part of me that thinks this film should be highly regarded due to its subject matter alone. However, in the end, regardless of its real world impact this is a top notch piece of filmmaking. Don’t walk, run to see Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.