If you want a job doing right get Spielberg, on the other hand if you want to make an epic right get Daniel Day-Lewis. So this pretty much has the outright winning formula and 'Oscar' stamped across its forehead before you've even sat down. A biopic, about some American guy with dubious facial hair, beats me but the Yanks seem to think he's pretty important.
The films kicks off straight away in a battle, a rain soaked battle to the death with hordes of American soldiers literately at each others throats, stumbling around in thick knee high pools of mud. Everywhere we see men being bayonetted to death or trampled into the mud, the men are mostly black, a lead to the core of the story, yeah its taboo history right here, black slavery.
Now I'll admit I was kinda thinking we would see plenty of bloody gritty civil war action in this film, or at least hints of it. The start of the film does give that impression and I was gearing up for a right royal historical blitzkrieg but alas!! the start sequence is all we get and not a drop more. Yes this film is completely and utterly dialog driven as it follows Lincoln from one meeting to another with every figure/group/party of the time.
Now this isn't a bad thing and I wasn't bored a tall amazingly, the film looks so lavish, realistic and atmospheric I found myself merely enjoying the old ambiance of late 18th Century life. Its strangely calming and very pleasant to just sit back and take in all the sights and sounds, you can almost smell certain scenes they look so vivid and luscious.
The cast is impressive, it seems everyone wanted a piece of this practically guaranteed unstoppable Spielberg Oscar machine. Yet I found myself thinking (again) that its the rest of the cast that actually outweigh Day-Lewis. Yes DDL is the man, the king of epics, but his performance here is very quiet, very slow almost sombre, with the odd little sequence where he perks up a bit. Now of course I realize this is obviously deliberate and how Lincoln must have been but for me he is almost swallowed up by his fellow actors and their performances, Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, David Strathairn, Sally Field...hell even James Spader is good here.
I do think that DDL has rightly earned his reputation in films like this, but I also feel he seems to be getting automatic hype and praise in this film from that reputation when really its all the other players that really shine. Personally I felt Mr Lewis has been matched and beaten well and truly here, the strength of the cast is too great, kudos of course for all.
There isn't really anything I can say about the film in a negative view. Yes its mostly political dialog but its accurate, real, which is good, but I can understand that many won't enjoy that. The only thing I didn't really like was the way Lincoln's death was included. That may sound odd but showing Lincoln on his deathbed with doctors at his side, from my own artistic point of view, wasn't required. That's all they show, they don't reconstruct the actual assassination but it just seems clunky, strips the film of a solid dramatic ending and kinda takes away the legendary aspect of the man by showing him at the end of his life.
Ironically the ending of the film 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' was done in a much more thoughtful way, it doesn't show anything, just leaves it to history and what we all know. I think 'Lincoln' should have ended when we see the President walking off down a corridor in the White House, watched by his servant, leaving for the Ford's Theater. For Spielberg that's a surprising wasted chance for a nice emotional finale there.
So yes, a reasonable knowledge of American civil war/political history is required here methinks. I won't lie there is tonnes of heavy political dialog running right the way through this beast of a film and it will confuse and disorientate most folk (had me dashing for good old wikipedia on many occasions...and that was even heavier lol!).
I would also say, even though I'm no expert on this period, I'm sure certain elements have been over dramatised for the film. Always the way which I can understand of course but you can sense it clearly in many sequences. One could almost say this isn't really a film for entertainment but a lesson, a lesson that should be shown in all schools much like Spielberg's WWII epic 'Schindler's List'. Thick and slow going but rewarding no doubt.