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‘Lincoln’ sets lofty presidential standard
Daniel Day-Lewis, center, delivers an Academy Award-worthy performance as Abraham Lincoln in director Steven Spielberg’s latest film. Photo courtesy of DreamWorks.
“Lincoln,” the latest film from Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg, tells the tale of the United States’ 16th president in his attempt to pass an amendment abolishing slavery.
The film depicts many of Lincoln’s well-known traits, such as rarely lying and his penchant for stories, along with the lesser-known tale of how the 13th amendment was passed. Lincoln and his cohorts attempt to lobby and barter for votes in this story, an interesting display of the era’s politics.
Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the eponymous American leader, gives a performance that will be talked about for years. In the role, Day-Lewis commands an authoritative presence while still keeping Lincoln’s humble charm.
Liam Neeson (best known as the lead in “Taken”) was once attached to play Lincoln, though after Day-Lewis’ performance it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the familiar stovepipe hat.
The film teeters between three key areas of Lincoln’s final months: how the amendment would affect the Civil War, Lincoln’s personal views on slavery and what his personal life was like.
As the Civil War was nearing a close, the 13th amendment was considered an unnecessary risk by many at the time – although the president said its ratification was necessary for the future of prosperous nation.
Many notable figures play important roles in getting the amendment passed, including Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones). Stevens is unwilling to compromise on his stance of full equality among all human beings, which presents a roadblock for Lincoln, who argues full equality can’t be achieved in a single political move.
While Lincoln deals with Stevens, his colleagues enlist the help of three unsavory characters (James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and John Hawkes) who attempt to sway lame-duck politicians to vote for the amendment. Because some of their tactics include outright bribery, Lincoln is unable to be directly affiliated with the men.
On the home front, the president deals with his depressed wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field), as well as a son who wants to enlist despite his parents’ wishes in Robert Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Field particularly gives a heartfelt performance as a wife still reeling over the death of her youngest son to typhoid fever.
Several well-timed comedic moments existed in what could have otherwise been an overly dramatic movie.
Though the film is firmly rooted in 1865, there’s a lot of relevance to modern political and social issues in the film. Additionally, the story serves not so much as a partisan tale but rather a morally right versus morally wrong story.
Following a series of disappointing outings (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse”), Spielberg’s back in top form with “Lincoln.” The director segues between scenes showcasing Day-Lewis’ commanding presence with more poignant moments of reflection between minor characters and the revered president.
Those expecting battle scenes from the Civil War will be disappointed, as only one such scene is included near the beginning of the film. Instead, viewers will find a thought-provoking film chronicling the last political battle of one of the nation’s most storied presidents.
“Lincoln” will surely be in contention for several honors come awards season, including potential nominations for Spielberg and Day-Lewis, along with a likely nomination in Best Picture categories. It’d be a shame to be one of the few to miss the film before such accolades are bestowed.