Director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is a compelling political drama that focuses on the intricacies of politics and lawmaking during one of America’s most contentious periods of history.
In a stunning performance, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays the 16th U.S. president during the last months of his life as he was desperately trying to end the Civil War and accomplish the passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.
Benefiting from a superb script by Tony Kushner, Spielberg’s approach to the material is uncharacteristically restrained, albeit filled with intricate details, visual texture, remarkable performances and intimate filming that highlights the gravity of the story.
Kushner’s fully drawn characters and deftly structured dialogue showcase the complexities of Lincoln and those close to him during the most crucial period of his presidency.
With patience and quiet calm, Lincoln exudes his power in subtle ways. Lacking glamour and polish, his Midwestern cadence and amiable demeanor is likely part of what made him so wildly popular among voters, despite the ravages of the war and the toll it had taken on a rather hopeless nation.
Lincoln’s complex relationship with his wife Mary (Sally Field) includes their shared struggle with grief at the loss of their young son. Mary’s battle with depression and mental illness, as well as the suggestion of Lincoln’s own depression, are also touched upon in small but crucial scenes.
Despite the opposition of Mary and his advisors, Lincoln proceeds with his plan to push the vote for the 13th Amendment through the House.
Insisting that his Secre-tary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) enlist the help of some shady lobbyists — played with great skill by John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and James Spader — Lincoln proves he is not against bribery and coercion if necessary to ob-tain votes for the good of the country.
Lincoln is also aided by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical liberal with a nasty temper who is the most outspoken abolitionist in the House. This is a spectacular performance by Jones, who plays a man whose convictions lie in his heart and are more important to him than anything else.
The film’s conclusion includes the final vote, the surrender of the Confederacy and the assassination. Spielberg frames the ending sequences with exceptional care, avoiding any cinematic devices that might lead to melodrama; his choices from beginning to end result in one of the best films of his career.
Film fans who follow the awards season can expect Oscar prospects for this film to be very high. Nods for Best Picture, Spielberg’s direction and Kushner’s script are more than likely, and you can expect Day-Lewis to be basically unbeatable in the Best Actor race.