Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner
Stars: Daniel-Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Stratharin, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Lee Pace, and Gulliver McGrath
The story of Lincoln is a story of a man who rises to the occasion and do what he must. It is the story of the last days of his presidency as he moves to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and at the same time moves to end the war. After an initial battle scene, the film moves to the political machinations of Washington D.C. and the horse trading required to get something done.
By focusing the script on only the last four months of Lincoln’s life the film is able to show us the man and not the myth. It also shows us the damage slavery caused on the morality of the nation. The passage of the 13th Amendment was not assured. There were those in the Union that feared its passage would cause a domino effect of blacks being considered equals to whites, eventual voting rights issued to the black man, and then universal suffrage for woman. We discovered the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves but only those in rebelling states, and its wording and authority was more akin to confiscated war booty then freeing a people.
The look of the film is in washed out blues and grays, with the only warm light coming from dim candle light. All the faces are ashen and haggard; the clothes and buildings weathered and dirty. This is a time of an exhausting war. The only signs of civility are to either put on a brave face or for some political gain.
In this world is the lone towering figure of Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis); not above the frae but a part of it. And even though he is “the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power,” he is not above the Law. He must come down from Mt. Olympus and get his hands dirty. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is strong but exhausted. A man who is a teller of stories, but capable of making decisions that will result in the loss of many lives. A man who stands alone, for his family stands second to his responsibilities to the Union, and his confidants are not privy to all his thoughts & actions. In the end he is a man with a strong moral compass, and is willing to make the hard decisions to make something right. If in the end the cost of freeing the slave is the loss of more life, then he is willing to make that sacrifice to do what is right.
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln strikes the right balance of a character who knows that she is both a hinderance and an asset to her husband. She is barely able to keep it together when called to be strong, but then is insightful at moments of weakness. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is a fire-brand and great orator, and performs memorable verbal duels with an equally motivated–and unexpected–Lee Pace as Fernando Wood. The remainder of the case is equally gifted, with James Spader as the bacchanalian lobbyist W.N. Bilbo stealing every scene he is in.
Lincoln makes us connect with its subject and time by demystifying the man and making us privy to the historically accurate and ultimately dirty business of politics, as well as genuinely care for the outcome of all the players involved.
Grade = A