Mark's Review of Lincoln
If you want to know something about a person's life, you need to look at their actions, and what those actions created. This is the way Steven Spielberg has chosen to educate and inform us about probably one of the most iconic figures in US History, or world history for that matter. The study of his final months in office, and the political battle to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is a brilliant take that give real perspective to history, and here, Spielberg lets the words and actions tell the story. Tony Kushner's play-like script toes the fine line between education and realism in almost perfect ways. Spielberg's restrained direction keep the overall themes in play throughout the long scenes in rooms and Congress. It's a long film, but it draws you in, because it's successful at playing on these themes of fairness, equality, and justice under the law.
The 13th Amendment continued the change that the Constitution started, and a hundred years later, the Equal Rights Act picks up where the the 13th fell short out of the necessity of compromise. The workings of our government are also showed in miniature here, although today, it's much more impersonal. Spielberg hits all these things through his story telling, and the characters are vivid, even if there are a lot of them.
The cast is superb. It feels less like a movie or a documentary, and more as if you are in the room with these men, trying to reason through what to do. It felt like a magic spell had grabbed me and trasported me to those times, yet I could completely relate their story to our government and politics today. A lot of credit will be given, rightly, to Irish-born Daniel Day-Lewis, whose portrayal is pretty flawless, and feels right. His dynamic with his wife, Sally Field, son Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and members of his cabinet (The Team of Rivals) are are well-played, and feel organic to the story. However, it's an ensemble effort to tell an important story well. Here was a cast that understood and valued the story they were telling, and whether they portrayed someone major, or a sideshow to the main event, it's all entertaining and builds upon the last scene with architectural perfection, yet you don't feel much manipulation. There are even moments of folksy humor and irony that are inserted with Spielbergian magic into the story they are relating. It's all necessary, and every frame of film is used to move the story forward.
If you know a lot about the period portrayed, you will appreciate the film on many levels, but even if you don't, it's moral themes come through strongly. I said earlier in this review that this Amendment set the stage for much follow-on legislation, and not just in the United States, but legislation for the moral center that Lincoln talks about across the whole world. History is about perspective, and 'Lincoln' gives us a window into that time, and a chance to look at the moral battles that are taking place today. Recommended.