Steven Spielberg puts his stamp on history with his latest film Lincoln, a historical biography which looks at the endeavours of America’s greatest president Abraham Lincoln. Spielberg’s strict attention to detail and his admirable choice to focus only on the last four months of Lincoln’s life makes this film evocative, powerful and a milestone in filmmaking. The film focuses on the 1861 Civil War in America and the bravery of Lincoln to change American history and have the 13th Amendment, banning slavery, passed by the United States House of Representatives.
Civil War brutality opens the film, serving as an intolerable reminder of atrocities that humans are capable of. The camera moves hastily between the fighters as dirt and rain splash like blood, stopping momentarily on corpses to absorb the sombre tones of the narrative that is to follow. The first sight of Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) back to us, stooped, listening to black soldiers leaves one mesmerised, the incredible likeness, the persona, the behaviour; so momentous that it leaves you with Goosebumps. Spielberg has undoubtedly given life to his own unique representation of an historical icon but with a grace that matches D.W. Griffith’s and John Ford’s visions. Day-Lewis’s capabilities stretch far and beyond, his soft melancholy voice is able to create tension yet still be soothing, his fragility in posture indeed creates a sense of venerability, truly representing the last months of Lincoln’s life.
The recitation of lines from the Gettysburg addressing by a black solider harrowingly pushes forth the narrative. Mrs Lincoln (Sally Field) sits consoling her emotions, moreover reassuring Lincoln over his dreams, seeking to find the true meaning before fretting about the potential consequences. Spielberg uses this mode of intimacy throughout the film to intensify Lincoln’s portrayal and for the audience to bear witness his kind-heartedness and benevolence outside the political footing. Lincoln is a role written for Day-Lewis for he really makes it his own; he champions sides of Lincoln we would never have seen with ease whilst bringing out the anguish and hurt with his son (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) without hesitation, which comes as a surprise.
Lincoln’s struggles, compromises and law bending to achieve wider goals makes for some comical and politically enthralling moments throughout the film.
The scenes in the House of Representatives are magnificent and some of the best in the film, notably between Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and Fernando Wood (Lee Pace). The climax is gripping, fast-pasted and poignant, although one expects much more from an established director like Spielberg; nevertheless it brings a rounded, cinematically beautiful conclusion.
Lincoln is intelligent, quick witted and at times amusing and with a well-established charismatic cast who deliver the performances of their lives, the film is sure to do well at the Academy Awards. Credit must be given to Tony Kushner whose tremendous efforts in writing a skilful screenplay matched with the virtuoso work of Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography and John Williams’s musical score takes this film to colossal heights. The rich mahogany oak furnishings, the thick tobacco clouds of smoke and the use of lighting really accustom you to the times, qualified with the rich vocabulary which lends well to the authenticity, giving you the sense of actually being there. One can really appreciate the lengths that Spielberg has gone to with this film for the costumes, make-up and every minute detail has been thought about. Lincoln is a film not to be missed; in fact true appreciation will come with multiple viewings.