By Spencer Myers
November 29, 2012
It is astounding how much more brilliant a human being is than a god. Gods are fairy tales. The deified Lincoln always stood tall and always had a clear conscious. This deity declared no more slavery and saw that it was good. The real Lincoln knelt down to put more wood in the fireplace and was haunted by dead bodies. The real Lincoln did what was necessary to overcome an opposing south and an opposing democratic party.
“Lincoln” covers Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggle to pass the thirteenth amendment through the House of Representatives. The Union victory of the Civil War is assured but the bodies still stack up. Lincoln is aided by his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) in persuading Democratic representatives to vote for the amendment despite its radical nature and ability to further complicate the readmittance and reconstruction of the American south.
There are no actors in “Lincoln.” This, by no means, is a statement on lack of talent; the movie becomes a game of “what other movie have I seen him in before?” This movie is filled with living breathing characters. Spielberg allows each venerable actor to study their characters in full while giving the actors with less experience the necessary direction. This leaves no weak links in the chain. Even the youngest son of Lincoln inhabits his role.
Spielberg’s directing prowess is trumped only by Daniel Day-Lewis’s acting. For one reason or another Day-Lewis, despite being born in the UK, has mastered the role of the consummate American Patriot. Lincoln tells his favorite stories, he laughs at his own jokes, he polishes his own boots, and never for a second will the viewer think that they are watching an actor. Trying to describe how flawless his portrayal of Lincoln is only reduces it. The only way to fully grasp his mastery is to see the movie.
“Lincoln” never loses its audience’s attention, not even in scenes without Lincoln present. The complete ensemble lives. The underhanded political trio played by James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson provide excellent comedic relief as they grease palms to get the twenty democratic votes needed to pass the amendment. Tommy Lee Jones fills the screen with raw energy as the radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens who is made to tone down his love for equal rights so that the thirteenth amendment will not scare those afraid to move forward, as Lincoln says there is no purpose of knowing true North on a compass only to walk into a swamp along the journey.
This movie is filled to the brim with talent. The sets are flawless. The lighting is kept to perfectly realistic dark as the time period only allows for oil lamps and candles. The scenes in the sunlight really stand out because of this.
The sets and lighting put this film in 1865, but there are certain lines that make the setting truly breathe. In one scene a politician is boarding a carriage when the wife handing him off says to his servant “it’s going to be a long trip, get him drunk so that he can fall asleep.” The culture of another time becomes so real that comparing it to modern day becomes almost automatic.
“Lincoln” is the film to see this year. It starts off slower, as most historical pieces do, but don’t let that be a deterrent as it quickly gains momentum. There is no legitimate excuse to not take this opportunity to allow the flesh and bone human Abraham Lincoln to stand before you and impart his wisdom.