Dir: Steven Spielberg, 2013
In January 1865, Abraham Lincoln strives to push through the 13th Amendment, eradicating all slavery on American soil. On the other hand, the Civil War is reaching its conclusion and if peace is bartered before the Amendment passes, the president fears that slavery will never end. Lincoln must obtain sufficient votes from a reluctant congress whilst struggling with the decision of ending the war early and saving thousands of lives or abolishing slavery forever.
‘The 13th Amendment’. That’s what this film should have been called. Granted, not the most emphatic of movie titles and not as likely to draw in as many crowds as the moniker of Honest Abe but it certainly would have been more apt.
By now, Daniel Day-Lewis’ chameleon-esque immersion into his roles goes without saying as Mr. Method vies for his third Best Actor trophy from the Academy and it is fair to say that no-one else could have captured the peculiar mannerisms, the vibrant passion nor the overall likeness of the 16th president of the United States. However, Abraham Lincoln is a tertiary character in this film to the events which Spielberg exhibits. This is no biopic in which we explore the nature of a man who altered America for the better as much as an overview of each and every cog that turned to cure the United States of slavery and oppression. Satisfactory, then, that the film works better this way.
If there is a narrative centre through which we view Lincoln, it is via Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, a crusader in the fight against slavery. Jones’ power and fervency drives the film forward as it briskly sails through its 150-minute running time. While some supporting actors in the form of Jones, David Strathairn and James Spader compliment the film, the inclusion of Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and many others are mere distractions in a cast that is too renowned for its own benefit.
Although Spielberg does his usual amount of dabbling in sanctimony, the payoff is vindicated by the subject matter. Unfortunately, it is in the last four minutes of the film where Spielberg descends into formulaic biopic territory that destroys the reputable approach he chose to convey, not so much tugging at heartstrings as opposed to banging the emotional drum.
Despite these shortcomings and for the better part, Lincoln does prove to be Spielberg’s most well-executed film in many years, owing its success to a stunning script from Tony Kushner that appears to pitch The West Wing back a century and a mostly-determined cast of actors. It’s a shame that with a little more focus, Lincoln could have been one for the ages.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆