‘Lincoln’ a thoughtful, well-acted epic

Article Published: Nov. 20, 2012 | Modified: Nov. 20, 2012
‘Lincoln’ a thoughtful, well-acted epic

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in 'Lincoln.'

For the sake of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln.

The critically acclaimed actor was quoted as saying he’d never felt such a depth of love for another human being that he’d never met, “and that’s, I think, probably the effect that Lincoln has on most people that take the time to discover him … I wish he had stayed (with me) forever.”

After watching this epic, well-acted and thoughtful tale of the U.S. President’s final months, audiences might feel the same, that Spielberg’s two and a half hour window into this remarkable man’s life is hardly enough.

But for the film’s sake, it is, with that window offering a telling glimpse into Lincoln’s final acts that define the character of one of our most beloved presidents.

It’s an immersive film, impeccably casted and performed, effectively taking its audience back in time to 1865 Washington.

As the Civil War rages toward its bloody end, President Lincoln (Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”) is faced with a substantial dilemma. As he pushes for the 13th Amendment, which would end slavery in the United States, Confederate delegates have agreed to discuss the possibility of cessation.

However, should peace come before the amendment’s passing, it’s all but certain that the returning Southern states would oppose.

As such, it becomes a race against time, as Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward (David Straithairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”) and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, “No Country for Old Men”) engage in backroom politics to gain enough votes to bring the amendment into law.

We know the outcome, but Spielberg’s direction and Tony Kushner’s (HBO’s “Angels in America”) screenplay keeps the story engaging and surprisingly intense.

Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”) and Kushner also serve plenty of food for thought, as in Lincoln’s use of special executive powers during wartime, along with all the shadowy political maneuvering employed to pass the amendment. Do the ends justify certain means, especially if those ends aren’t only for the overall greater good, but are the greater good? They’re working toward a noble end, for certain, while simultaneously treading a very slippery slope.

In many respects, “Lincoln” plays like a period political drama, but one that’s rife with character. Some of the film’s best moments are its most intimate, scenes in which the president shares stories – practically homespun parables – not only with his cabinet, but with common citizens and soldiery, regardless of their social status or skin color. He’s a man for the people – all people.

And Day-Lewis’s performance is nothing short of brilliant, as he adopts a soft-spoken, comfortable cadence that’s strikingly different from other portrayals of the 16th president.

In his legacy, Lincoln is so iconic in American and world history that he seems larger than life, but Day-Lewis gracefully brings the character down to earth, allowing audiences a glimpse of the humanity that thrived within.

That involves his relationship with wife Mary Todd (Sally Field, “Forrest Gump”), still in grieving for the loss of their son, William, as well as his reluctance – and eventual acceptance – of allowing his elder son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Looper”), to enlist in the Union army.

But it’s not only Day-Lewis that delivers character. “Lincoln” boasts one of the best ensemble casts in quite some time, with Jones’s portrayal of the outspoken Stevens a more than enjoyable highlight.
His scenes in the bickering, blatantly partisan Congress conjure thoughts of the modern House of Representatives, only with more eloquence, wittier exchanges and a considerable amount of facial hair.

In this case, however, the ultimate goal is more than noble and, quite frankly, inspirational. Day-Lewis may steal the show, but “Lincoln” is an expertly crafted sum of its parts, and, in Spielberg, we couldn’t ask for a better builder.

“Lincoln,” rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 17-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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