The day after the Presidential election I found myself reclining in the theater with a big bag of popcorn eager for an advanced screening of Steven Spielberg’s latest cinematic endeavor, Lincoln, to begin.
The lights dimmed and I was quickly transported to a gruesome battlefield during the American Civil War. Reminiscent of the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, the screen was subjugated by candid depictions of war; fully embodying the death, pain, and carnage of combat.
Daniel Day-Lewis makes his first appearance onscreen as President Lincoln while conversing with African-American soldiers; his back is to the audience only adding to the anticipation. We are looking for his face, we hear a familiar voice, but it is not until his face is first revealed on-screen that his full transformation is realized. Only his eyes give him away; everything else is fully indicative of our 16th President.
The story follows President Lincoln during the last four months of his life. At the film’s centrality are the abolition of slavery by the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment and the end of the Civil War.
The screenplay based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, was penned by Tony Kushner (Angels in America). The Pulitzer Prize winning writer worked on the script for six years. Driven by pages and pages of intricate dialogue each scene is a lesson in history and human behavior. There are no cinematic indulgences, only subtle storytelling.
Directed and produced by Spielberg, he and Kushner fashioned a historical epic where one of the greatest U.S. Presidents is not just a figure in history. Through the exploration of his relationships with his wife Mary, the GOP abolitionist, his adversaries, and his sons; Lincoln materializes as a tangible being of flesh and blood.
There is no other way to put it, but Daniel Day-Lewis is Lincoln. A brilliant method actor of inexhaustible talent he is immersed in the role. He delivers sweeping monologues with dazzling precision; his performance sprinkled with wit, generosity, and strength. All remnants of the There Will Be Blood star dissipate to make way for the President.
Day-Lewis leads an all-star cast including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Many of the best character actors in the industry also don wigs in this historical adaptation.
Sally Field’s timeless talent is on display again. The intensity that she brought to film classics like Nora Rae and Steel Magnolias makes her gripping portrayal of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln palpable.
Tommy Lee Jones delivers a standout performance as congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens. Jones breathed life into the gifted orator and fervent abolitionist, capturing his intensity over the eradication of slavery and the installation of equal human rights.
Lincoln is a cinematic triumph. Well written and executed, the film is a riveting account of a President’s strength in a very difficult time in history. In the midst of turmoil he remained a man with generosity of spirit even towards those who openly opposed him. Lincoln guided the country forward.
To miss this film in the theaters is to miss out, SEE IT! Come award season you will wish you had…wink, wink!
-Jennifer Hall, CBS Local