Film Review: Lincoln

Tuesday 4 February 2014 by

Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Film

There’s a good reason I didn’t watch Lincoln when it came out in cinemas… I just wasn’t that bothered. Lincoln, as incredible a guy as he was, didn’t really strike me as fascinating enough to justify an entire film about him. And also, biopics just aren’t my thing as a rule.

But then it appeared on TV. And it had won all the awards and everyone kept telling me how good it is. Perhaps I ought to give it a chance. After all, Steven Spielberg SHOULD be able to make a film that’s vaguely entertaining, right!?

Lincoln tells the story of the 16th president of America as he fights to pass the 13th Amendment – the bill to abolish slavery. In the midst of a long and bloody civil war, even his own advisors are tiring of his campaign. But Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) won’t give up, and the film drives home how hard-won each vote became.

It’s clear why Day-Lewis had such acclaim – as Lincoln he was fearsome, empathetic, magnetic and endearing – but we should also nod to the stellar performances put in by Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Robert Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (the cantankerous and downright lovable Thaddeus Stevens). The cast – despite this being a film about one man – was fantastic, from the smallest member to the biggest.

As for the film itself, I’m glad I watched it in sections. All at once and I think I might have got tired of it. Spielberg does manage to get a couple of bloody scenes in there, but for the most part, we are fixed to Washington DC, in an up-close-and-personal fly-on-the-wall position, privy to the politics and scheming that surrounded the bill for the 13th Amendment.

The cast, as I said, hold their own. There aren’t many that can create the tension in these scenes in quite the same way they can. And Sally Field is jut outstanding as the formidable Mary Todd Lincoln, stealing every scene she is in.

Already knowing the ending sometimes takes the magic away, but in this case it simply adds to it. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about Lincoln’s political career, aside from the Civil War and abolishing slavery, and the fact he was assassinated; I have no inkling of what kind of president he was or what he did in his time in office. But this film tells the story with skill, engaging you in the fight and the nuances of American politics of the era. It avoids the Gettysburg Address, and barely brushes past the assassination. Instead, your are present as each person votes, and as the numbers add up, you hold your breath (even if you do already know the ending). Spielberg is masterful in subtlety (something he should try more often?) and I was impressed at how much I enjoyed it.

It’s not something I would feel the need to watch again – it was a history lesson with a good cast at best, and a soliloquy at worst. What’s clear is Spielberg’s passion for the subject, and the love and care that has gone in at every level – from the cast to the set and costume designers. It is well-deserving of its critical acclaim.

Rating, Review, Three

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