Today, Abraham Lincoln is considered one of the finest presidents in American history, but the challenges he faced during his presidency were enormous and historic. Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln” portrays just small portion of the man’s struggles, with the historic passing of the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery. Though Lincoln had already given the Emancipation Proclamation, the power of the government was limited, hence the need for the amendment. In the film, the South is on the verge of collapse, and ready to surrender, and rejoin the Union. Once the war ends, however, the South will be able to vote against the amendment, and prevent Lincoln from legally abolishing slavery. His advisers keep insisting that he must end the war, and give up hope of passing the amendment–but Lincoln persists. In perhaps not fully legal methods, Lincoln forges ahead, claiming he is “clothed in immense power”, and that his advisers will procure him the votes to pass the amendment.
History, of course, leaves little question as to the outcome, but the film does an excellent job of dramatizing something that was essentially political intrigue and back-room negotiating. Lincoln is portrayed as a caring, thoughtful, and humorous man, though distant and introspective. Daniel Day-Lewis not only successfully plays Lincoln, but in fact becomes Lincoln–to the point it’s impossible to see the man beneath the facade. He perfectly captures the look, stoop, and gravelly (but high-pitched) voice of the historic president. Powerful scenes between him and wife, Mary (Sally Field) show Lincoln’s tumultuous relationship he and his wife shared, especially after the death of their sons. At the forefront is Lincoln’s oldest surviving son’s desire to join the Union Army, and Mary’s absolute rejection of the idea. Lincoln knows that he can forbid it, but it would further tarnish his relationship with his son. One particular scene shows how torn Lincoln is between his grief and the need to remain strong for the country; it’s a telling scene, and stands out as one of the best in the film.
The setting of the film also stands out as remarkable, with glimpses inside a much smaller Washington, and an intimate, less grand White House than that of the modern age. Costumes are rendered faithfully, hairstyles are wild and uniquely 19th-century, and the dialogue is flamboyant, and expansive–superfluous, even. Still, the film is immediately both recognizable and foreign, but ultimately American. The acting throughout is superb, from the Oscar-worthy Daniel Day-Lewis, to the equally enthralling Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, to the host of supporting cast, such as Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a dedicated representative, with strong passions about slavery, as well as many other familiar faces. The authenticity of the movie is quote genuine.
Ultimately, Lincoln is a political film, filled with small bits of humor here and there, glimpses of the future role that presidents play in legislative affairs, and the power that Congress wields. In fact, most of the film takes place indoors, within room after room, but it’s still highly entertaining to watch. It’s almost as if we were watching Abraham Lincoln himself–and the wonder that goes along with it. Enough cannot be said about Day-Lewis’ performance. Oscar-worthy doesn’t begin to describe how perfectly Day-Lewis played the role–it is impossible to imagine any other actor playing Lincoln with such perfection.
This is a film that nobody should miss. It highlights the difficulties and pressure that Lincoln was under to end the Civil War, abolish slavery, and repair a family torn apart by grief, loss, and the power of the presidency.
– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown