Wednesday, November 28, 2012


There's a point in watching Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th president of the United States where you realize you're not just watching an actor portrayal. You are watching a man disappearing behind a historical figure, an icon of American history. You stop seeing Daniel Day-Lewis. You see Abraham Lincoln. Never again will an on-screen representation of him be so close, so real and so accurate. And it all starts with that voice. The voice Day-Lewis decided to inhabit the president with is nothing short of brilliant. The legend and lore of Lincoln brings to mind a deep, booming voice. History tells us otherwise, and the master method actor brings this richly to life. Before this film, Lincoln was a figure, a representation, an idea. Now, there's a man to go with it.

Instead of the painterly, picturesque puffery of last year's "War Horse," Steven Spielberg directs "Lincoln" with refined understatement. He allows the densely packed script from Tony Kushner ("Angels in America," "Munich") speak for itself, which was expertly crafted from Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." Full of monologues, heated debates and strategic discussions, the movie documents the final months of Lincoln's presidency leading up to the passing of the thirteenth amendment and his tragic assassination at Ford's Theatre. The beauty in the collaboration is that it works like a time machine transporting audiences effortlessly to the 19th century, a time when the Civil War raged on and worry surrounded Lincoln's re-election.

Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski shoots "Lincoln" full of dark interiors and light spilling in through windows and curtains. Only a few shots are outside, and the only piece of battlefield action is in the film's first fleeting moments. For the majority of its two-and-a-half-hour running time, the film is a lesson in history -- and I mean that in the best way possible. It's smart, and you feel smart watching it. It can drag and does take a bit to get settled in with its vast cast of characters and familiar faces, but once we first enter that House of Representatives, the rewards for your attention and perseverance are immense.

The supporting crew is a laundry list of names and faces audiences will recognize. The main players are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln's eldest son, Robert; David Straithairn as Secretary of State William H. Seward, Lincoln's right-hand man; Tommy Lee Jones as the hot-tempered radical liberal Thaddeus Stevens, a fervent advocate of black rights; and Sally Field as Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd. But that's only the beginning. James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Lee Pace, Jared Harris and  Michael Stuhlbarg among many other actors play strong supporting roles to give this moment in history real drama and life.

Casting Sally Field as the impassioned Mary Todd was inspired, as the veteran actress shows us the 16th president's wife as both indignant toward and admirable of her husband. Likewise, Tommy Lee Jones brings a weathered yet tough energy to Thaddeus Stevens whose private secret reveals his personal connection to Lincoln's cause. Both of these seasoned performances will be nominated alongside Day-Lewis.

All of this, all of "Lincoln," it all circles back to Day-Lewis. The scenes of him speaking to his Cabinet are captivating. He plays Lincoln with a quicksilver spirit that is ideal to the president's lore and how well-loved and appreciated he was by his party members. He has all the patience in the world, idling by and telling long stories -- but he also has his moments where he doesn't see what he knows needs to be done getting done. And when he slams that fist of his down on the table and asserts his power, you'll get chills. If nothing else, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" could likely restore your faith in American politics.

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