Spielberg creates a film just as masterful as his most highly thought of work.
Even though the name ‘Spielberg’ is often connected to fun, entertaining cinema experiences, the times when he is tackling the most serious of human subjects can easily hit home just as effective. Putting characters of no great importance into moments of war, racism, poverty, even the holocaust has always been director Steven Spielberg‘s vision when he delves into the serious stuff. Whilst he may be no average person, taking the sixteenth President of the United States and focusing a feature on the most pivotal phase of his rule seems to be a tough challenge. Yet the result has become just as more masterful than even his most highly thought of work.
Facing strong opposition and even close colleagues at his side going against his will, Abraham Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) sets out to win a vital vote to abolish slavery in the House Of Representatives. But with fatalities and egos of the ongoing American Civil War ever increasing, he must decide whether peace in his nation is the main course of action, or whether his intuition can maybe cure both.
With any depiction of a leader, despite this being set within the last four months of the Civil War, the trick is to leave you with the effectiveness of the main character’s legacy. There is the whole argument of whether loosing slavery would spark more confrontations in the war – while on the other hand, rumours of peace being met with disdain at the fact those who want to bargain for peace are wanting to push for the freedom for black citizens. So right from the initial spark of an idea in Lincoln’s mind, you get the sense of arguments being made from both sides of the political fence and the real main challenge of Lincoln’s is to orchestrate those around him to see both slavery and war gone for good. And that’s were you get the main drama – that’s the moral arena in which these characters can perform.
In terms of Spielberg’s work, it seems to be his most boldest drama, without the razzmatazz from what you would expect. To call it a costume drama may damn it with faint praise, and the very minimalist use of John Williams‘ always sentimental score adds to that, but yet clearly it stands up as a stand alone piece which you would expect from such a story of importance. You may choose to look at present day allegories that mirror the films’ themes, yet Spielberg doesn’t ponder with that in any frame. If you want to look for modern day parables, go ahead, be his guest. But this has essentially the feeling of a story of a man, and his life, and the time in history when he lived. One great moment is him asking a young officer whether we are chosen to be born, and whether we have to accept the fact that you live in a place in history that you simply have to live through.
A central question like that may act as the film’s main theme, but the most profound idea you take away is the notion of story-telling. Both actor and director found in deep research that Lincoln was a story teller, and that is used to full effect. Having an articulate presence of a man with such power does indeed grab you, and brilliantly plays into the hands of what Spielberg always does in serious cinema of using what isn’t being said to hit his messages home. You may expect the bickering language of a 19th century politician, yet the script invokes that aspect of story telling to the best of it’s ability. One fantastic of subtle imagery, or the delight of bells ringing through an open window on a sunny day, do more than any nods to the camera ever can.
As with the performances, you know exactly what you get from Daniel Day-Lewis. A craftsman, an actor who will go the distance to ensure he nails his character and then some, his Lincoln shines on screen. Day-Lewis gives a performance of a true father figure, not only to his loved ones but to his America. Whether it be his soft spoken politeness or imposing silhouette he’s able to offer wisdom at a distance instead of embroiling himself in the chaos of argument. Enter Molly, (played by Sally Field), his devoted wife and support, following in his husband’s idea, but yet holding onto the belief of not letting the name be tarnished because of a false hope. She’s able to convey a woman domesticated yet just as influential to those in doubt.
With the somewhat scene stealing being that of Tommy Lee Jones‘ character whose support of getting rid of slavery is met with justification right from the beginning with reasons that reveal to have personal meaning. A stern defender whose had the look of a man having lived through the deepest years of slavery and being move outspoken than anyone on his religious ideas of all men are created equal. That fits in perfect with the squabbles of those who oppose as they are played not so much as “the bad guys” but more of a force that can’t see the vision of Lincoln’s America with so much going on around them.
With both an accomplished actor like Day-Lewis, and masterful director like Spielberg, it’s no surprise that the pair treat us to such a true historical piece that will stand the test of time.