Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)
Written by: Tony Kushner (“Munich”)
Even more than a historic drama about the 13th Amendment, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is an actor’s showcase. History buffs aside, mainstream audiences will be hard-pressed to remember all the intricacies it took to get the U.S. Senate to abolish slavery in 1864, but what will be impossible for them to forget is the incredible work by the entire ensemble cast. From two-time Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”) to each minor character that walks the halls of Congress, everyone is at top form.
“Lincoln” is easily Spielberg’s most restrained film since 1997’s “Amistad,” a court-room drama about a man who led an 1839 mutiny on a slave ship. Unlike “Amistad,” however, “Lincoln” doesn’t allow for much emotion to come from the stories of the slaves themselves. This isn’t a narrative about slavery as much as it is about the details behind the controversial amendment that would change the face of America forever. “Lincoln” is congressional theater at its finest.
Leading the cast in this tremendous collection of actors is Day-Lewis. As 16th President of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln, Day-Lewis, who is a spitting image of Honest Abe, commands the screen with his soft-spoken albeit passionate rendition. Look for him to grab the fifth Oscar nomination of his career for channeling such an iconic personality.
It is the final month of his presidency and Lincoln is determined to end the Civil War by finding the support he needs from fellow politicians to free all slaves. It will take 20 extra votes from the House to get the amendment passed, but with the nation divided by the war, finding the men who are brave enough to cross party lines is a challenge.
There are so many small cogs inside “Lincoln” that would bowl over any other director, but Spielberg makes them all work succinctly. As abolitionist Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Academy Award-winner Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”) gives a strong performance, which puts him in the short list of Best Supporting Actors this year. In a male-heavy cast, the category could also see Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) find a spot in the top five. His role as Secretary of State William Seward) is his best work since his award-worthy turn as broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow.
“Lincoln” will be, at times, a chore to get through if dialogue-heavy scenes and constitutional debates don’t fascinate you. But screenwriter Tony Kushner packages it all in such an intelligent and thought-provoking way, you can almost forgive it for its grandstanding moments, which are plentiful.