Film Review: LINCOLN

Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner, based on A TEAM OF RIVALS by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, David Straithairn, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Sally Field. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

LINCOLN is arguably the most significant film of 2012. I can’t think of any movie about the U.S. Presidency that was as faithful, as lucid, as exciting, as inspiring. It made a few mistakes, the first scene for sure. And it had a perfect ending but went on for another ten minutes or so. But it is very difficult to fault any other scene in the movie. You can pick at Spielberg’s choice of using Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, but more for her over familiarity than with her performance, which was fine. You can also criticize his less than artful reverence for his subject—Lincoln seems bathed in a blue light, in fact. But this is nitpicking and inconsequential criticisms in the scheme of things.

The movie concerns the weeks preceding the passage of the 13th Amendment. Its passage is stewarded by Secretary of State, William Seward (Straithairn) and abolitionist Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens (Jones). But it is Lincoln, in a brilliant move, who intuits that the timing is right for its passage: that the weeks before the new Congress is seated is the perfect, if only, time to persuade outgoing Democrats to join the Republicans in getting this amendment through. And most of the fun in the movie is watching a band of scalawags, led by Spader, twist arms, and make the promises necessary to assure this. Although we know going in that the bill was passed, the excitement of watching Congress at work is considerable. D.C. is still a muddy backwater in many respects, which heightens the feeling that politics is a dirty business.

lincoln-movie-trailer1Lewis is a perfect Lincoln-although his performance is a bit marred by Spielberg’s veneration. Schindler got the same treatment in his earlier film but you don’t come to a director like Spielberg for nuance—you come to him for spectacle and accuracy. And Day-Lewis’s quiet portrayal is easily balanced by the liveliness of the performance of Tommy Lee Jones. He fairly springs off the screen.

Highly recommended.

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