Four score and seven years ago… No! I will hold off from such a speech. Such speeches are better left to those equipped with wisdom and a sense of what is morally right and wrong in the eyes of the law, let alone from those whose ecumenical powers…No! I said I would hold off on such grandiose speak. Perhaps these are the effects that come from seeing a film about a noble and righteous figure, whose beliefs led him into changing the freedoms for generations of men and women.
A figure known as the “Great Emancipator”, Abraham Lincoln has provided actors such as Henry Fonda (in Young Mr. Lincoln) and Hal Holbrook (North and South) with opportunities to espouse the man, the legend, and that big hat. Daniel Day-Lewis is the latest to play Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s epic Lincoln.
Set towards the end of the Civil War in January 1865, Lincoln follows the congressional efforts of President Lincoln and other US Senators to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which legally outlawed slavery. Rather than focusing on Lincoln’s entire life, or even his four-year presidency, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have instead taken great focus on this one particular act over a few months that continued Lincoln’s intentions of abolishing slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Daniel Day-Lewis has once again created another legendary performance, embodying Lincoln with tremendous grace and tenderness. Day-Lewis intensely inhabits the character most impressively with his voice, rarely raised above a calm and collected tone. Though no recordings of Lincoln’s voice existed – having died a short time before Edison’s phonograph was invented – it feels safe to say that Day-Lewis nails it.
Sally Field is emotionally fierce and fragile as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, subtly portraying a woman often stigmatised by history as insane. It is a delight to see Field on the silver screen in such a magnificent role again, especially during scenes between the First Lady and the President, warranting much more exploration into their complicated relationship. Costumer Joanna Johnston ‘s work is best highlighted too with Mary and her range of colourful and elegant dresses, in contrast to the dozens of suits worn by the men.
Supporting performances are also strong from a very large pack of men, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, James Spader, David Strathairn and most impressively Tommy Lee Jones, who owns the best lines of dialogue in the film, adding importance to the moral, ethical and strategic ways to abolish slavery in a contentious congress.
The film’s 154 minute running time flew by very quickly thanks to Kushner’s especially riveting debate sessions (and a screenplay adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s novel Team of Rivals) and some trademarks from the always wonderful Steven Spielberg: a John Williams score rich and grand in its affectations of patriotic fervour and an extraordinary central protagonist. And those are just a few elements that make Lincoln such an engaging film.
Lincoln is in Australian cinemas from 7 February through 20th Century Fox.