© 2013 Ray Wong

Somewhat of a biopic but more a historical drama, Lincoln does not chronicle Lincoln's life or his death, but instead focuses on the President and his effort on passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1865, US President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just started his second term in office, and the American Civil War is winding down after four tumultuous years. During this delicate time, Lincoln intends to push forward the passage the the 13th Amendment which would abolish slavery from the United States. 

Lincoln believes the amendment would be his mots important achievement, and that he is racing against time because if the war ends before the amendment is passed, the southern state could stop it. By trying to pass it before peace comes, he may just have enough votes. However, he is torn because an early peace would save thousands of lives, thus Lincoln struggles with his own conscience: end slavery forever or save lives.

The Amendment has already passed in the Senate, but Lincoln needs to persuade the Democrats to vote for it in the Congress to get enough votes, which may require compromises in other areas that may test his integrity. Meanwhile, the President also struggles with a difficult rift with his wife Mary (Sally Field) over  their oldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who wants to leave law school to enlist.

Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine) only won his second Oscar five years ago for There Will Be Blood, and he might win his historical third (no actor has ever won three Academy Awards as best actor) for this performance. Granted, half the battle (pun intended) is already won as Mr. Day-Lewis, with the help of make up and costumes, looks and acts like what we envision the President would. However, he is such a great actor that he aptly disappears in the character, having us believe that we're witnessing the real Lincoln instead of an actor playing Lincoln. While an ensemble piece, the movie rests heavily on Day-Lewis's shoulder and the actor gives an extraordinary performance.

Sally Field (The Amazing Spider-Man) is solid as Mary Todd Lincoln, the President's supportive wife even though I find her portrayal somewhat over-dramatic in comparison to the rest of the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) has a good turn as Robert Lincoln, whose patriotism gives Lincoln and Mary their dilemma.

The supporting cast is extraordinarily strong, led by Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black III) as Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the radical Republicans who are staunch opponents of slavery. Jones's stellar performance rightfully earns him an Oscar nod, and perhaps even a win. David Strathaim (The Bourne Legacy) is stately as Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward. And James Spader (Boston Legal) returns to film with a strong performance as white supremacist T.G. Bilbo.

The screenplay by award-winning scribe Tony Kushner (Munich) is rather breathtaking in its details and literary quality. Kushner's gift for words are highlighted in this dialogue-heavy production as the actors deliver the lines beautifully and authentically. The drama and tension unfolds organically as Kushner weaves together the political wrangling, the storms and relationships between these characters, and he offers us a fascinating piece of history.

And this fascinating piece of history is brought to us in vivid and immersive details by master Spielberg (Tin Tin), who seems to redeem himself after a slew of lukewarm projects. Granted, Spielberg does borrow from other classics, including his own. For example, the open sequence is intense and brutal, reminiscent of the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The production is masterful and technically superior. The pacing can be a bit slow, and the drama may be dragged down by the heavy dialogue at times. Still, Spielberg steers a tight, grand ship with Lincoln.

While Lincoln is a tremendous and beautiful film about the fascinating time, politics, dilemmas of a fascinating President, it is not for everyone. Non-history buffs may be deterred by the material and pacing. Also, I feel that as good as the film is, it is a safe bet for Spielberg, and it lacks the edge and risk-taking of something like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List, and I am not sure if it can be considered as one of Mr. Spielberg's best. Still, on the whole, Lincoln is something of which President Lincoln would be proud.

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathaim, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner (based on book by Doris Keams Goodwin)
Distributor: Sony Classics
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief language
Running Time: 127 minutes 


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 8.0 out of 10.0 

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