I'm going to go right out there and say that Lincoln is one of Steven Spielberg's best films. He has kind of a hallowed place in our hearts, but most people couldn't name anything he's done that doesn't involve Indiana Jones or space (or unfortunately both) in some way. He has resounding hits to his credit, but some hollow misses also populate his canon. With Lincoln, all of the elements come together to form an incredible and timely piece of work.
Let's start off with Daniel Day-Lewis. This is the image of Abraham Lincoln that is going to inform our perception of him for decades to come. Everything he does takes what little we might know about Lincoln's personal characteristics, marries it perfectly with the legend he has become, and makes him a tangible, real person. There is an immense depth just beneath the his quiet surface that one does not see in the Lincoln Memorial. Day-Lewis has managed to create from myth a man, and one as real as any of the rest of us.
I do not put the rest of the cast far behind Daniel Day-Lewis. This is one of the most delightfully cast movies to be released this year, second only to Moonrise Kingdom. Everyone transmits the vivacity of the historian's characterizations to the screen. Who else but Sally Field could play Lincoln's wife, Molly? Who else but Tommy Lee Jones could summon the fire-and-brimstone piety of Thaddeus Stevens? Who else but David Strathairn for Secretary of State Seward? These history book names are herein given splendid life.
Besides the players, the whole picture is just beautiful. Spielberg has espoused more and more blue screen in the past few years, to limited success. If he has is here, I couldn't tell. There is a level of realism throughout the whole thing that only adds to the effect of the movie. There should be a cinematography nomination here.
There are those who would make meager comparisons between the frantic scramble to pass the 13th Amendment and our own predicament with the Fiscal Cliff. Others see it as a plea for bipartisanship and inspiring Lincoln-esque leadership in our increasingly polarized political system. I don't see it as a valid commentary on either. As he did in Schindler's List Spielberg is giving a much more important message than simply "slavery is bad" or "political parties slow progress". He is suggesting that maybe there ought to be a little morality infused into the system again. Today it would be heretical to question Lincoln's strong morals. One might ask, did he go too far, but the overwhelming response would be "of course not". Every campaign for equal rights has its roots in the 13th Amendment, and whether we like it or not, it is a largely moral piece of legislation. And there is nothing wrong with that. Think of where we would be today had it not passed. Lincoln understood that, and was willing to risk an incredible amount to maintain his conviction. Perhaps a solution to the problems of any time is sensitivity to a moral compass coupled with the savvy to use it effectively.
Lincoln is one of the best biographical sketches I've seen on screen in a long while. It captures the drama and feeling of the time and makes real what had previously been only names in history books. Whether it is the best movie this year is debatable, though I'm inclined to think it is not. It certainly rests in the top five, though, and Daniel Day-Lewis is something special.
Next week what else are you all going to see but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? I'll hopefully get to it before it's old news. I'll also be starting a series of classic Christmas-type movies that I hope you'll enjoy.
by Chase Harrison