Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones
Full of high ideals, lofty intentions and supposedly historically accurate, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has already garnered a dozen Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Director and Actor. While Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the 16th President of the United States is indeed impressive, it remains to be seen how the film will play outside of America.
Lincoln takes place during the final 4 months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency (and life). At the time (1865) the Civil War is raging and Lincoln is desperately trying to abolish slavery by passing the 13th Amendment of the Constitution.
Although there are a few grim Civil War scenes, most of the “action”, such as it is, takes place in Congress where there is much back-room bartering in order to get the necessary votes to pass the amendment. If this sounds rather dry and talky to you, then I suggest giving the film a miss.
Daniel Day-Lewis buries himself in the role of Lincoln, showing the President to be a shrewd negotiator, but still highly-principled. Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln is a complex character and Field does a fine job of not over-playing her (she’s up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar)
But any sense of drama contained in the film comes in the form of politics. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans (back then, they were more liberal than the Democrats) are forced to barter and (almost) bribe their way to passing the 13th Amendment. At the same time, Lincoln is dealing with sensitive negotiations with the Confederacy that could end the Civil War.
Spielberg’s direction is mostly effective although there are a few scenes that had me cringing, most notably the one near the beginning of the film that finds Lincoln visiting the troops on the battlefield. He meets with two groups of soldiers, one white and one black, and eventually the black soldiers recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address back to him word-for-word. It’s highly manipulation and patronizing.
I saw Lincoln in the U.S. and, although I found the film lacked any drama or action, several audience members were visibly moved. Still, I can’t help but think that overseas audience are going to be particularly enamoured, or entertained by, the political wheeling and dealing of 150 years ago in Washington.
It’s a fairly well-known fact that slavery was abolished and that Lincoln was assassinated. So, while this film has a few excellent moments and some riveting performances, I can’t really recommend it.
Watch the trailer for Lincoln here: