Review: Lincoln (2012)

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DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg.

CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, John Hawkes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lee Pace, David Costabile, Gulliver McGrath, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Cross, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jared Harris, Tim Blake Nelson, Gloria Reuben.

SYNOPSIS: With the American Civil War reaching its inevitable conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) races against time to abolish slavery before the Southern States attempt to quash his efforts. Though an early peace would save lives, Lincoln must decide whether to free the country’s slaves or end the war.

Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team Of Rivals, Steven Spielberg’s commitment to lovingly recreating an authentic ambience makes Lincoln translate as a thoroughly engrossing historical experience.

A potent combination of drama and democracy, Tony Kushner’s script weighs more heavily on Abe the politician than Abe the family man, requiring devout attention to the constant readdressing of policies and individual standpoints. And, though it’s not so much a feast for the eyes, Lincoln’s dull greys are perforated by exquisite attention to sound, with the ticking of clocks and the jangling of Mary’s (Sally Field) headpiece personally involving you amongst the verbal sparring.

For a film that revolves around the issue of abolition, Spielberg focuses far more on presidential pressures than the plight of the people themselves, with Elizabeth (Gloria Reuben) the only African American character of any semblance. But this notion of people being underused is a recurrent one when flitting between so many strong supporting actors who joyously fight for memorable screen time.

Daniel Day-Lewis is President personified from his voice to his hunched stance and tin soldier walk, once again blurring the lines between acting and being. And, though Michael Kahn’s editing may momentarily snap you out of engrossment by lingering on Lincoln the iconic, Spielberg allows us access to a multifaceted Lincoln, from loving family man to tireless campaigner.

Tommy Lee Jones is on top, resolute form as Thaddeus Stevens and, though Field may seem a little overstretched in Mary’s most desperate moments, her verbal defamation of Thaddeus is a work of callous delight. Where James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson provide comic incongruities (at its best when John Hawkes and Spader assume the roles of Statler and Waldorf-esque vultures), David Strathairn’s performance as Lincoln’s right-hand man, William Seward, is truly resplendent in its restraint, with confrontational scenes held at robust, wooden tables deserving of lasting praise.

War may prove a heavy burden on the President, but its onscreen presence is reserved to his physical stoop and one bleak, sweeping shot that signals a mere fraction of the loss his fervent pursuit of abolition has caused. However, the inclusion of his eldest son’s, Robert’s (Gordon-Levitt), ties to the conflict cannot escape expositional trappings, even if it does present us with another Spielbergian father-son motif.

Though the film’s close is handled a little too abruptly amidst some rather questionable, saccharine imagery, Lincoln is a truly outstanding piece of cinema. Those that surround Lincoln do not merely indulge their President when listening to his meandering tales and the same is true of Spielberg – we genuinely want to listen.

VERDICT: 5/5

Lincoln is released in UK cinemas on January 25th.

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