Jan 25 2013 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis team up to memorable effect to bring the story of America’s 16th President to the big screen.
The film has been nominated for 12 Oscars, and it’s not hard to see why the Academy has fallen under its spell, given the fact it covers such an important moment in American history and one of the country's most popular political figures.
Day-Lewis stars as Abraham Lincoln and the plot focuses on the final four months of his life, when the President strived to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed by the House of Representatives.
Spielberg is no stranger to real-life tales (Munich, Schindler’s List) and he re-teams with Munich writer Tony Kushner on the screenplay, based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
The film is very talky and if you’re unfamiliar with this period of American history a lot of the material might go over your head.
This is also Spielberg at his most restrained with his least bombastic film yet, settling on the power of words over action, with the exception of a superb down-and-dirty, rain-infused opening battle scene.
His low-key approach extends to his handling of the inevitably tragic conclusion to Lincoln’s story and the movie is refreshingly free of Spielberg’s trademark sappiness.
That’s not to say that the director doesn’t still know how to pack a punch; a jarring shot of body parts being thrown into a pit and building storm during a row between Lincoln and wife Mary (Sally Field) break out from the dialogue-dominated pack.
He also manages to create high tension and anticipation during the 13th Amendment vote itself, despite the fact those with a decent historical knowledge will know exactly how it pans out.
Spielberg and his production team serve up exemplary period design too but there’s no doubt that the film’s biggest strength is its star.
Day-Lewis is a virtual guarantee to serve up acting at its finest. This is his fifth Best Actor Oscar nomination, with a third win likely to follow his previous success for There Will Be Blood and My Left Foot.
His Lincoln is humorous, head strong and a keen storyteller. With head often bowed and accent nailed he is the epitome of the great man, and credit has to go to the make-up team and Spielberg for framing that distinctive face with several side and front-on close-ups.
Supporting actor / actress Academy Award nominees Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) are very strong too, the former in particular during a grand public putdown of the latter.
Lincoln won’t suit all tastes, and isn’t the full-on dissection of one of the most iconic political figures in history many expected, but speeches and stories are rarely this gripping and you’re truly in the presence of acting royalty with a lead star in mesmerising form.