I cannot think of a better actor today than Daniel Day-Lewis. With little more than a dozen films during his career, Day-Lewis has raised the bar for what it means to be a screen actor. He does so again with Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s long awaited cinematic interpretation of the sixteenth president’s life, but here the director does something different than the standard birth to death story.
Focusing on a few brief, but nevertheless pivotal months of the man’s life, the multi-Oscar winning director shows the great struggle Abraham Lincoln underwent in order to have the House of Representatives pass the Thirteenth Amendment that would end slavery in the United States.
With the Civil War waning, as the Union is close to victory, Lincoln wants the amendment passed before the war ends so once the Confederacy rejoins the country they must comply with the decision and free their slaves. But the president is met from every angle by fearful cabinet members, naysaying politicians and, most discouragingly, the public who seem not to care whether slavery is eradicated or not.
The film presents this material, in addition to a few scenes revealing the president’s personal life with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) and sons Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tad, with sobering authenticity; nothing in this film looks like fake Hollywood trickery. The way you’re immediately immersed into this world is one of the many accomplishments this film majestically achieves.
Lincoln has been praised as the best American political film ever rendered to film; and that may be true considering what is brought to the table. Spielberg brings his A+ game (this is his best film in over a decade), Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) adapts Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book with excellent clarity and the cast is a dream. Tommy Lee Jones is a force to be reckoned with as Thaddeus Stevens, and Field is devastating and utterly heartbreaking as the first lady, who historically has been maligned as a mentally unstable burden to her husband (both will be frontrunners for Oscars). But, of course, the bulk of the praise in this film belongs mostly to Day-Lewis, who inhabits his character with such ease and honesty that you’re convinced that Honest Abe is actually appearing in front of your eyes.
If anyone deserves an Oscar this year, it is Daniel Day-Lewis for his astounding performance in Lincoln.