Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War go hand in hand. He led through and nearly out of a critical time in history and never lived to see what became of the country and people he fought for. Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ gives due praise to the president and his supporters who fought for the freedom of slavery as war raged on. Although lacking in some compelling action and with more lengthy conversation than needed, ‘Lincoln’ presents on an altogether fully rounded and well-portrayed note.
Without shying away from personal and familial flaws in Lincoln’s life, the main man played by Daniel Day-Lewis, Spielberg was able to present a true salute to the person who would not settle for less during an epic war. Lincoln had an intense focus for gaining support and follow-through for the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to emancipate the slaves. It may have cost him some depth in his relationship with his older son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who hoped desperately to enlist in the war and wife Mary (Sally Field) who mourned for the previous loss of another young son and the dangers that Robert could face. As the commitment took much of Lincoln’s time and energy, he fought without major regard of the opposition; he knew what was right and wanted the amendment to start the change of race perception for the future of America. This political fight is the soul of the film.
Perhaps more character driven than war driven, the performances in ‘Lincoln’ were outstanding and one more distinct from the next. Down to the mannerisms, the small hunch and lanky walk for instance, combined with the slow thoughtful speech, tell us that Daniel Day-Lewis took this role quite seriously. Besides the makeup that puts him so close to the president’s appearance it’s hard to believe, Day-Lewis executed the details of his character magically. Sally Fields was perfectly emotional in her dramatic role, although a bit of a dreary character, and Tommy Lee Jones was witty and appropriately sharp as Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful Republican in the House of Representatives who’s main focus was abolishing slavery. And each House member highlighted in the film was brilliantly set apart from the next.
A main issue for this film was not only its somewhat long length, but also a number of drawn-out scenes with too much dialogue that make the film feel longer than it is. A typical audience might like to be shown more rather than told. We see the story-telling side of Lincoln and other House of Representative members tend to lecture excessively, making parts of the film feel like one monologue after another. Lincoln’s administration was an important time in history, yes, but a lot of action took place outside of the White House that could have been included more for a better balance of suspense and historical substance. The strong cinematography could have been used in other places for more tension, for how the war was truly like. One scene portrays the aftermath of a bloody battle, but more with the soldiers on both sides of the war and their fight could have brought ‘Lincoln’ up another level. Additionally, some more character clarification would have been helpful; there are many figures to keep straight.
‘Lincoln’ captures emotion, intelligence, history, and even humor. Despite some verbose moments, the mildly clever yet profound script by Tony Kushner gives heart and passion to the film. Although it’s possible to lose attention at moments and feel slightly deprived of some Civil War essence, ‘Lincoln’ deserves applause for giving a politically charged endeavor in history a focused depiction in cinema. It’s sure to be appreciated by most, in the name of Lincoln.