Review of Lincoln


Movie Review: "Lincoln"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 149 minutes
Release date: Nov. 16, 2012
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Biography / Drama / History

The life of our sixteenth president has been filmed, written, and even sung since his death in 1865. Steven Spielberg's version of Lincoln's story takes on a short but important period in the life of Lincoln and the nation. The movie "Lincoln" shines a cinematic microscope on the three months leading up to the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery in the U.S. By choosing this small, influential time in American history, Spielberg and his slate of who's who in dramatic acting give the audience an entertaining bit of history that many people may not be privy to.

The film opens with black soldiers fighting in the Civil War, setting the audience up for the driving force of the story. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the signature character, President Lincoln. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln is played by Sally Field. The president quickly reveals that he intends to free the slaves in the nation. He can't wait until the end of the war, however. Doing so would cost him a valuable leverage with his opposition. Lincoln understands and outlines how he must play the game of politics in order to get his legislation passed.

Therein lays the stellar subplot of the film. Spielberg uses the austerity of Washington D.C. in 1865 to reveal the games, favors, and tricks involved in politics at the time. Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, an outspoken abolitionist who has the same goals as Lincoln, but just doesn't trust the president. James Spader plays W.W. Bilbo, the early roughest version of the lobbyist. Bilbo works for Lincoln's opponent William Seward (played by David Strathairn). Spader's Bilbo works with Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) to gather the votes for Seward the best way they knew how-through bribes and promises of favors.

Sally Fields's version of Mary Todd Lincoln stands in stark contrast to the political behemoth that her husband is forced to work in. She has just lost a son and is on the verge of endangering another who enlists to fight in the war. Mary Todd hates the White House and Washington, and is only there out of duty to her husband. "Lincoln" uses all of these characters to tell the complex story of how the slaves were freed and to expose the myth that politics was purer in the past. Through Spielberg's lens, the audience sees the truth in just how old the game of politics really is.

The film is at its most convincing once the audience settles in for the story. Slowly, as the camera introduces Lewis in character as Lincoln and as the 1865 scenery is revealed, the people in the audience will find themselves forgetting that they are watching a work of fiction. The actors, especially Lewis, are experts at losing themselves to the character, the story, and the plot in such a way that the veneer of Hollywood film falls away. Soon, there is only the portal to Civil War era Washington D.C. Few films can accomplish this as effectively as "Lincoln" does.

"Lincoln" is not the typical Spielberg film. Don't go looking for the science fiction or fantasy veneer Spielberg built his name on in this movie: "Lincoln" is Spielberg with his dramatic hat on. The creativity is still there, along with his obvious passion for cinema. Spielberg lines up his character perfectly in many scenes, making poses that one would swear were copies of famous political portraits. The audience must pay close attention to the dialogue as well. Spielberg takes Tony Kushner's screenplay and creates several quotable opportunities for many of the characters, including Lincoln himself.

"Lincoln" is the story of an embattled president trying to do what he knows is right for the people, no matter what it takes. Crosscut with scenes of the war raging outside the White House, "Lincoln" is fit for the scrutiny of history buffs and also the dramatic film junky. Despite the historic content, many of the scenes and the language may be too much for young children. However, older teens may find educational and entertainment value in the film for years to come. Today, "Lincoln" is a great way to escape into the past. It is also a reminder that the saying "politics as usual" is truer than what many people will want to admit, especially after seeing this film.

Rated 4 out of 5 stars