Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones
Sassi’s Star Rating: 3/5
Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, and adapted by Tony Kushner, is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis provides a masterful interpretation of President Lincoln’s determination and courage. He is depicted as a visionary and an empathic leader dedicated to the ideals of justice and fairness.
The film, an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, focuses on the passing of the 13th Amendment and the abolition of slavery, against the backdrop of the American Civil War. The horror of war and its humanitarian cost is well conveyed, but not through the inclusion of lengthy and bloody battle scenes. Spielberg’s focus is on Lincoln’s political prowess and a detailed explanation is given as to how he managed to procure the votes required in order to effect such a monumental change; the relevance and implications of which, can be clearly seen today.
Much of the storyline is about the pressure on Lincoln to abandon any hope of emancipation in favour of an earlier end to the war, thereby choosing not to risk thousands of lives. Day-Lewis (also nominated for an Oscar) offers inspiring insight into this charismatic and intelligent man and his motivations for pursuing what he believed was right. He inhabits Lincoln’s character fully and as is the actor’s trademark, we are left with no doubt that we are watching Abraham Lincoln on the screen.
Sally Field (Mary Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) are also nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars. There are in fact many familiar faces in this stellar cast of actors, and filmgoers will enjoy identifying them beneath the authenticity of their historical costumes.
The writing of Mary Lincoln’s story (Field) offers new observations about this First Lady. One senses that the modern understanding the film applies to her character will serve well to contradict historical notions that she was a difficult woman and a hindrance to Lincoln’s aspirations. In a rare departure from the politics of the subject matter, we are given a view of her as a grieving mother, and an opinionated person opposed to her sons going to war. For all that her family sacrifices to see her husband in office, she feels that he should end the war, and not jeopardise peace for the sake of the 13th amendment. Her strength is evident in a scene with Stevens (Jones) where she publicly and articulately puts him in his place in regard to his rivalry with her husband. Stevens and Lincoln are rivals with common ground though, and both Republicans.
Thaddeus Stevens (Jones), a fervent abolitionist, is persuaded by Lincoln to curb his outspoken enthusiasm in order to achieve their shared goals. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance is a standout and one of the most emotionally engaging of the film. Clearly, Stevens was a man also ahead of his time.
The abolition of slavery, resulting in freedom for all citizens, is such a wonderful achievement and is celebrated in Lincoln. Naturally, these scenes are moving. They also include interesting and perhaps little known facts. However, the bulk of the story matter is about politics and groundbreaking leadership; whilst stirring, it is not as gripping as the potential of the raw emotions that underlie the premise of human equality. As such, the film is educational, but I feel that the vast potential for people to connect with the struggle for equality, has not been fully exploited here.
The political strategising is interesting. However for the uninitiated it may prove to be a little inaccessible. On the other hand, for those well versed in the politics of the time, I think the coming to life of characters they are already familiar with may prove to be captivating. The film is worth seeing for Daniel Day Lewis’ excellent acting alone however. He captures the demeanor and motivations of this historical figure with precision.
Overcoming adversity, and achieving success when the odds seem to be stacked against us, is a universal theme we can all relate to. The changes achieved by Lincoln and his constituents shaped the future of the American people. These achievements, and those of people like Martin Luther King and others, have paved the way for events like the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Great leaders, with high ideals and a strong belief in equality and justice can achieve a great deal. It says a lot about humanity that even though clever politics were involved, there were still enough individuals willing to stand up and make a difference; brave enough to take a stand against the status quo
An inspiring and complex film about a courageous and determined leader’s place in history, and how he achieved success, even when the odds appeared to be stacked against him.
Lincoln, in cinemas now!
Category: Film & TV