As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
With a historical/biographical movie of this magnitude, I must being with the character and portrayal of Abraham Lincoln by the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis. While I do enjoy reading and learning of our history, I know little about the actual person that Lincoln was. I have only seen pictures and heard little tid-bits of his personality, and of course we all know of his historic accomplishments.What Day-Lewis has done in Lincoln transcends any other acting performance I have ever seen in film or television, because Day-Lewis is not acting. As per his usual acting methods, the name Daniel Day-Lewis is never heard or seen on [or off] set once production has started. Instead, Day-Lewis goes by Lincoln’s name, and remains in character for months on end. I did not see this performance as an act. What I saw on the screen wasn’t a made-up character, but a real person. When you look into his face and his eyes as he is recalling a funny story or as he intensely pines for change, you don’t see Daniel Day-Lewis, you see an Abraham Lincoln. He does not “act”, or “pretend” to be this character, he is this Lincoln. Every other performance in this film and probably every movie I have ever seen has paled in comparison. This is the greatest acting work [if I can even call it acting] that I have ever seen in my life.
That is not to say that the other performances in this film weren’t great, because some of them truly were. Tommy Lee Jones‘ Thaddeus Stevens might be my favorite supporting performance of the decade. He is both hilarious and stern, determined to change this horrible act of slavery. This was the most interesting and unique character that I have seen Jones play. Sally Field also gives a wonderfully estranged performance as the maybe-crazy Mary-Todd Lincoln. Apart from them, the entire cast is filled with an awesome ensemble of really talented actors who all bring something different to the film: David Strathairn‘s faithful Lincoln sidekick William Seward; James Spader‘s unkempt, raunchy, funny behind-the-scenes worker for Lincoln, with his partners played by John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, who are perfect fits for the times; Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s righteous and rebellious son of Lincoln, Robert; Jared Harris‘ eerily accurate look of U.S. Grant; and other perfectly casted actors such as Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Joseph Cross, and Lee Pace. For a film with one of the most influential and powerful lead figures as Abe Lincoln, the supporting cast of characters is surprisingly awesome.
The movie itself was surprisingly light and funny, while still having some thick, heavy drama, of course. The forgiving run-time and not so heavy tone of the film allow for viewers of all interests and demographics, not just history nerds. That does not take away from the importance of the film, however. The viewer is constantly beat over the head with the fact that this man has to resolve the two biggest problems this country has ever faced in the span of a few weeks. The script is littered with powerful punch lines from many different characters re-enforcing both the importance of ending the war, ending slavery, and the impossibility of achieving both. The situation is handled surprisingly calmly by Day-Lewis’ cool and collected Lincoln. While not forfeiting some serious, intimidating, and powerful words, he usually relies on subtle revelations and metaphors, even a funny story or two. The courthouse is where you will find the dramatics: the racism, the slander, the insults, and the real hits to each party in their fight to destroy or save slavery.
The second unit work, which is what I refer the set, costume, and make-up crew as, is really good and convincing, and the film features a subtle yet satisfying soundtrack from the illustrious John Williams. The theme for this movie is one of my favorites from him. The camera work is classic Spielberg, involving some great cinematic work to enforce many themes like importance and power. It was very fitting for the telling of this story. And there was one thing that Steven Spielberg did that I really noticed and enjoyed, and that was the introductions of a lot of the characters. The camera work and dialogue schemes used to first show several of the characters, including Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, and the Spader/Hawkes/Nelson trio, was really cool.
4/4 – Combined with the most true acting performance I have ever seen with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln is a funny, powerful, flawless presentation of the most important couple of months in U.S. history.