Politics and history can often be dangerous territory for films, running the risk of becoming humdrum or inaccurate. Leave it to Steven Spielberg, however, to take on the challenge and leave us with a gratifying and moving experience in his latest film, Lincoln.
Lincoln details the events of President Abraham Lincoln as he works with his cohorts in Washington to pass the 13th Amendment to put an end to slavery in the United States of America. Friends flock to him, enemies curse him and the bill, and the civil war continues to drag on, all while he does his best to champion the amendment and its necessity to keep the Union in order.
Those looking to come to this strictly for entertainment might find themselves disappointed by the dry quality of the film. It’s nothing but political intrigue and dialogue from start to finish, and an abundance of characters and heavy involvement in historical events from 1865 give the film a very weighty and intellectual feel. But for all its dryness, the film does a fantastic job of capturing one of the most important events in our nation’s history.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln, a man iconic in and of himself. Lewis has an uncanny likeness to Lincoln and brings a new life to him with well-delivered dialogue and a complete absorption of the man and his personality. While there were moments that felt a tad contrived, he more than made up for it with multiple scenes of compelling monologues and a great sense of emotion and his belief in the importance of the bill.
Behind Lewis is an all-star cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his headstrong son Robert, Sally Field as the erratic Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as the salty congressman Thaddeus Stevens.
Of course, for all its grandeur, the film is not without its flaws. Lewis’ Lincoln is more of a soft-spoken and kindhearted character, making his moments of angry outbursts feel a little awkward and outside of his personality. Cinematography in Lincoln is interesting enough, but a dark filter and use of color give the film more of a gloomy, aged feel that it didn’t necessarily need. Some critics have even cited a bit of “21st century wishful thinking” in some of the dialogue exchanges, especially in Lincoln’s dealings with soldiers of color and freed slaves. It’s evident, and does have somewhat of a Disney vibe at times. Still, Lewis’ portrayal holds up as a convincing depiction of the President and his convictions.
You won’t necessarily need to break out any history books and do background research before seeing the film, but it might certainly help. It dives deep into the turmoil of the time, never pausing to catch viewers up on the preceding historical events before jumping right in. It doesn’t ruin the experience in any way, but it does make for a film you’ll have to pay undivided attention to from start to finish.
But for its drawbacks, Lincoln is a fantastic film, delivering a compelling depiction of the events surrounding the 13th amendment through a talented cast of actors and well-researched story. It’s politics as only Spielberg can spin it, making for some truly moving moments and giving us a deeper understanding and appreciation of our nation’s history. If you’re a history buff, politics geek, a fan of intellectual films, or even just a curious American, Lincoln is a must-see.