Photo: ©2012 2012 DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Director(s): Steven Spielberg

Writer(s): Tony Kushner

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Cross, Jared Harris and Lee Pace

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Nov 9, 2012 - Wide

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Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln takes on the air of a Shakespearean historical drama as it focuses on the political intrigue of the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. But what a few months it was, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery, the end of the Civil War and the assassination of America’s 16th President.

Spielberg could have filled the film with epic battle scenes, an 1800’s Saving Private Ryan, but he focuses on the drama that shaped the nation, the political intrigue and maneuvering necessary to pass the 13th Amendment before an embattled Confederacy can sue for peace. The clock is ticking and Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) knows that if the House of Representatives doesn’t pass the Amendment before the war ends, politicians whose constituents are more weary of war than horrified by slavery might never address the issue.

Washington D.C. is preparing for Lincoln’s second inauguration and there’s a chance that his Republicans might be able to get the bill passed if they can convince, cajole and, yes, bribe, some lame duck Democrats to vote with them. Lincoln gives that task to his Secretary of State (David Strathairn) who enlists the help of a trio of lobbyists (James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson) to get as many “yes” votes as they can.

Political junkies and history students can be joined in the cinema by anyone who loves great performances. The story is tracking a country fighting for its very soul and the drama is in the negotiating, the maneuvering and the political fighting led by the likes of Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) who must skilfully make their way through a voting minefield to get to the promised land.

Lincoln, who is masterminding the Amendment’s passage and getting ready to negotiate an end to the war, must also deal with a son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who wants to join the war before it passes him by and a wife whose psyche has already been heavily damaged by the loss of another child.

Lincoln truly is Shakespearean in its ability to take a historical moment and take it down to the people involved. You have a powerful leader, who’s also a father with a rebellious son. There are speeches by men who can strike their enemies down with words, a wife on the verge of madness, and even a trio of lobbyists for comic relief. If Lincoln wore tights instead of a stove-pipe hat, this thing could play at Stratford.

Daniel Day-Lewis constructs a huge man out of small moments. He deftly balances the reality of a politician who knows that lofty ideals are often the results of horse trading and that a shining utopia often need to be dragged out of mud. When playing such an historical icon it’s necessary to find the person’s humanity and Day-Lewis does it extraordinarily well.

Sally Field shows us a Mary Todd Lincoln who is able to show steely resolve in public and desperate pain in private. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to add to his resume, this time giving us a son who refuses to be in the giant shadow of his father and, despite his parents’ protestations, insists that he join the Union army before history passes him buy. Tommy Lee Jones can destroy his enemies in most films with ease, and here he does it with the skewering power of political speeches and well-aimed jabs at fellow Congressmen that would require hearings if they were uttered today.

With such an important task at hand, a little comic relief is necessary and Spader, Hawkes and Nelson are the perfect combination of arm-twisting bluff and blunder.

If I told you that you’d be on the edge of your seat watching vote counts and legislative procedure, you might just think I was crazy. However, that is what I’m telling you. Lincoln’s got my vote.

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