Even the great Steven Spielberg must bow before the awesome talent of Daniel Day-Lewis. And being an intelligent filmmaker, he does just
The director’s long awaited Lincoln (Which originally cast Liam Neeson in the title role) is perhaps the least ‘Spielbergian’ of Spielberg’s
Directed without so much as a hint of the visual energy and flair we have come to expect, the film is almost entirely made up of dimly-lit
interiors and talking heads.
Luckily, the almost theater-like staging turns out to be entirely appropriate.
Spielberg lets the screenplay and performances speak for themselves, and both are extraordinary.
Any analysis of Lincoln has to begin with Daniel Day-Lewis, who is superlative as one of the most noteworthy figures in American history.
Day-Lewis presents Abe as a thoughtful, even-keeled family man whose strong convictions, modesty and penchant for amusing anecdotes
at seemingly inappropriate times make him a fascinating and magnetic character.
The story focuses heavily on Lincoln’s lobbying of support for the thirteenth constitutional amendment outlawing slavery in the United
States. He believed strongly enough in this principle to ignore his advisors and put his very life in jeopardy. Day-Lewis embodies his
determination, but also showcases the President’s introverted nature and subtle charisma.
Following his enthralling, scenery-chewing performances in the likes of Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis’ Lincoln may
come as a bit of a surprise to some, but it’s a true testament to his versatility as an actor.
Lincoln is very much the polar opposite of those characters, and yet his work is every bit as magnificent.
Of course, much credit also has to go to Tony Kushner’s screenplay, which does a nice job balancing Lincoln as a politician, a father and
husband and as a man who dared to stand up for human decency.
Day-Lewis isn’t the only award-worthy performance either. Tommy Lee Jones is also fantastic as cantankerous abolitionist Thaddeus
Stevens. As good as Day-Lewis is, Jones comes awfully close to stealing the show at times.
The film soars thanks to this pair of performances and Spielberg is smart to get out of their way and showcase their talent rather than inject
his own style.
In fact, Janusz Kaminski’s shadowy, backlit cinematography is one of the only hints we are watching a Spielberg production.
Even composer John Williams forgoes his famous soaring style in favor of a restrained and noble score that enhances every tender and
touching moment with its beautiful orchestral minimalism.
Perhaps the only slight misstep is the film’s conclusion, which presents the President’s tragic end in a slightly gimmicky way, following by a
clichéd and slightly cheesy shot of Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address cross-faded inside a burning candle.
It doesn’t make for a thoroughly satisfying end, but I suppose that’s the point, and it’s only a mild blemish on an otherwise superbly made
political character drama.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a first-rate production in every way. It’s brilliantly written, steadily and respectfully directed and contains a
couple truly superb performances.
Daniel Day-Lewis is extraordinary as Lincoln. No offense to the previously cast Neeson, but it’s hard to imagine anyone matching the caliber
of what Day-Lewis brings to this role. It’s another brilliant achievement for the British actor and a performance that should be remembered
long past this awards season.
* * * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones
Music by: John Williams
Cinematography by: Janusz Kaminski
Released: November 16, 2012; 150 Minutes