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.
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.