Living in Britain, I was in an awkward position when seeing this latest Steven Spielberg film, for two reasons; Firstly, with it being released much later in the UK, I was far behind everyone else in my review. Secondly, this story, of how Abraham Lincoln abolished the slave trade, may not have the emotional impact or cultural significance over here that it will in America. Both of these fears were dismissed after the film finished; Steven Spielberg’s historical biopic of one of the most famous leaders in history, Abraham Lincoln, is a riveting and fascinating insight into the man behind the title, and also a look into one of the most important moments in the history of the world. You don’t need any real background knowledge of this moment in history before you go into the cinema, Spielberg keeps things running smoothly and you will never feel lost. It is beautifully acted, lovingly directed and will make you laugh, cry and most importantly, make you want to find out more.
Sometimes expectation doesn’t help me when I watch a film. Going into Lincoln, I knew that Daniel Day-Lewis had been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the lead role, and would probably win it too, with critics universally praising him for his performance. With so much hype over one performance, would I leave feeling disappointed or even slightly let down? In short, Daniel Day-Lewis is magnificent in Lincoln. He has given his soul to the part, and as a reward he has almost become the great man himself; he shuffles crookedly, he speaks slowly and every movement is delicate and precise. He is such a huge presence on the screen, coming across as a man loved by all and troubled by very little. He is exactly what the performance needed; calmness, an air of authority and an appeal to make the audience care. It is an Oscar worthy performance, it is everything I heard it would be, and he will win the Oscar for best actor. And quite deservedly too, I can’t remember too many performances with quite as much heart and soul thrust into them; truly magical to behold. That’s not to say other actors don’t shine too, and boy there are a lot of other actors. Lincoln has a huge and brilliant cast, with great actors randomly popping up and surprising you. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star my of my film of 2012 Looper, was in Lincoln as Lincoln’s characterful and frustrated son, and he brings the role believability and passion; a fine performance. Another surprising actor who came out of nowhere was David Costabile, known to me as a stalker’s unhappy husband in the brilliant comedy series Flight of the Conchords. In Lincoln, he plays Republican representative James Ashley, and actually has quite a big role in the film! It’s impressive that lots of actors can stand out when standing in the huge shadow cast by Daniel Day Lewis, who obviously steals the show. Unexpectedly however was the incredible performance of Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the other half of Lincoln, not at all calm but bold, brash and very insulting towards the democrats. He is just as important and vital to the film as Daniel Day Lewis’s character is, epitomizing the audience’s emotions when he screams, shouts and insults the racist Democrats. Tommy Lee Jones gives perhaps a career best performance, definitely in contention with his masterful work in No Country for Old Men. It’s hard not to be impressed by the cast of Lincoln, even when they should be overshadowed by one of the best performances I’ve seen in years, they are still all outstanding, and noticeably so. Praise rightly goes to Daniel Day-Lewis in what should be an Oscar winning performance, but equal praise from me goes towards the entire cast; no lacklustre performances anywhere in sight, outstandingly acted by everyone.
I love Steven Spielberg’s style of direction, and his ability to move from genre to genre. He produced a sci-fi classic in E-T, he gave us a superb thriller in Jaws and also depicted a horrific and realistic version of war in my personal favourite war film of all time, Saving Private Ryan. Although Lincoln is not his best film ever, it could be his most challenging. Critics have called Lincoln a war film; I entirely disagree. If Schindler’s List isn’t a war film, as Spielberg said, then Lincoln definitely isn’t. I don’t think Spielberg has done anything quite like this before, but it doesn’t show in the film; he tackles the subject in a way which I would expect from the masterful director. The angles are perfect, the lighting is highly reflective of the era and everything feels like it has been lovingly managed, a highly detailed world by a master of his trade. Just like Saving Private Ryan it feels incredibly authentic, perfectly formed to feel like the era. For a genre that thrives on being accurate, this had to be historically and culturally spot on to work. Some questions have been raised by historians about its historical accuracy, almost predictably, mainly about the films attempts to glamatize the events of 1858. This is hardly a flaw, more of a necessity: these events may not have been quite this dramatic, but none the more entertaining from it. Lincoln does remarkably well in being historically accurate, but it still needs to be a movie. The balance has to be perfect between film and historical lesson; it’s a mix that works perfectly.
It’s hard to critise Lincoln. I could be saying that it’s heavy emphasis on dialogue could alienate some people, but it won’t. I think if anyone is put off by the dialogue they should go see Lincoln anyway. It is a credit to the movie that every lengthy conversation is so riviting and interesting, and you will not feel the longing for some action. I could be telling you Lincoln feels overlong, but it doesn’t. It is a long movie, and does take a little while to move into full gear, but you never feel it dragging on, and very little could have been cut anyway. The only complaint that is valid is that some people may go to see Lincoln hoping for a very detailed, accurate historical biopic, and finding instead an accurate but also dramatized version of events. This is the only thing I can imagine some people disliking about Lincoln; it dramatizes events in order to reach out to a much wider audience. This was a necessary addition to the film certainly, but it’s dramatization could and probably will lead to complaints about total historical accuracy from some people.
As the decision of the century is being made by politicians shouting and screaming at each other, Abraham Lincoln is showing his youngest son a picture book. A lovely and memorable touch by Steven Spielberg.
The first scene, ironically, is probably the worst, where Lincoln sits and listens to two black men give their view on the war. In terms of the rest of the film it isn’t standout, but most of all it isn’t entirely plausible. It is quickly forgotten however for the rest of the movie that follows.
I’m not entirely happy I’ve now given out three top ratings out in a row, but the masterpieces keep on coming. 2013 is turning out to be an amazing year, and at the end of its first month we are given Lincoln; its full of passion, heart and has a sensational performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, one which is surely Oscar worthy. While being a historical biopic, it does the impossible and appeals to everyone simultaneously; I have talked to people who were expecting an all out action war film but still loved it. Be prepared though; Lincoln is genuinely moving too. Any film that nearly makes me cry deserves a top rating, and it is with great discomfort and annoyance I give out my third maximum rating in a row. January: I salute you.