Abraham Lincoln is an iconic (read: mythical) figure who seems to be, for the moment, omnipresent. He has been so boundlessly reinterpreted, whether he’s a dude who is “partying on” in Bill & Ted, or, more recently, a deadly vampire assassin, it’s obvious that we’ve begun taking him for granted. He has been forcefully transcended and re-purposed depending on the narrator’s political, creative or historical motives.
A couple months ago, I had the chance to
watch behold Steven Spielberg’s newest and most earnest endeavor of filmmaking, Lincoln. It is masterful and inspiring both in story, and performance.
The title sets the mood, all on its own. Lincoln, as a film, is as straightforward and unadorned as it is powerful, not dissimilar in effect to the surnames of its main character, and director. At only a quarter of the way into movie, it occurred to me how riveted I was despite the fact that we all (and I say this charitably) know the story.
Though not exactly the classic family film or thriller you’ve come to expect from Spielberg, it demands your ticket purchase. Lincoln is a beautiful, gripping cinema experience. The characters are mortals trying to accomplish the supernatural. Daniel Day-Lewis conquers the style and substance of a gawky man who would topple the legal and ethical boundaries of inequity. He’s a masterclass in digging deep. Hell, if Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”) could play President Lincoln, getting a heavyweight in that stovepipe hat feels like a lesson in the entirety of the human condition.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln 1 of 9Day-Lewis brings a humanity and humor to Lincoln that I didn't expect.
A Country Divided 2 of 9The nation was adrift in the storms of war and change. I can't imagine the fortitude it took to end the war and abolish slavery.
Lincoln Visits His Troops 3 of 9The movie opens on a haunting moment between the President and two troops. Unforgettable, like ghosts returning from the dead.
Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens 4 of 9Tommy Lee Jones plays an irascible, contradictory character whose personality holds the key to the balance of many fates.
Politics in the 1865 5 of 9It was surreal to imagine the sort of dealings that went on in this era. But then, maybe they were just simpler versions of the same techniques we have now?
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln 6 of 9Field conveys a vulnerability and emotionality, something has harnessed many times in past performance. This role seems as a stand-alone though.
Lincoln in Finals Months as President 7 of 9Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as hero, but no less contradictory and complex. He strains under the weight of this Presidency, as many man would. Spielberg has said, "â€˜Don't get in the way; celebrate these words, capture these performances, get it in the best way you know how.' And let the actors cast their long shadows."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln 8 of 9Portraying the eldest Lincoln son who desires nothing more than to support his country, even if against the wishes of his family.
Release Date 9 of 9Go see the film! It opens this Friday, November 16th!
Now, I could wax historical about how the film is factually accurate or celebrate James Spader’s brilliant performance for the same price of admission, but the most compelling blow was delivered to me as a father. I expected the onion cutting and erupting tears over the suffering, the human devastation, and prejudice of a country at war with itself, literally and figuratively. But for all that Lincoln did and said, he was also man with children. Day-Lewis plays the father with a certain conflicted and distant tenderness, someone goaded by an impossible mission, but deeply in love with his children. Most parents know some harmonic of that experience.
Ultimately, this film is exactly what we need most, in the midst of our political climate, to remind us of our definition of greatness, and it is curious to me why it was not released before the elections. As a country, a people, we are capable of so much, and if history can teach us of our pettiness, so too can it teach us of our potentiality.
In the catalogue of Spielberg’s films, like Munich and Schindler’s List, this film is a centerpiece. Bottom line: GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
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PS: One of my favorite scenes? An off-color joke about George Washington, a Revolutionary War hero and the English.