This week we watched Stephen Spielberg’s latest, Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the 16th president, heading up an all-star cast that includes Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. The film focuses on Lincoln’s efforts in his second term to end the Civil War and amend the constitution to prohibit slavery.
Ryan: Even though Lincoln is a Spielberg movie with a two-time Oscar winner playing Abraham Lincoln, I still approached the film with some degree of trepidation. Lincoln is such an iconic American historical figure (arguably the greatest president) that his legacy is open to boundless myth-making that ends up making him seem unreal. Hollywood has a robust history of phony myth-making when it comes to historical drama. So that was my concern. But pleasantly I can report that Lincoln is more grounded than I anticipated and because of that I highly recommend the movie. It’s one of the year’s best.
Andy: Spielberg has had a rough time of it the last decade or so, with several sub-par outings in the director’s chair (War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Because of this, I was also apprehensive of Spielberg’s helming a film about our greatest president. And even though he still has trouble knowing when to stop telling the story, Lincoln is a great achievement. It tells a story of political jockeying between the president and congress that seems highly relevant in today’s political climate. Furthermore, it does a great job of humanizing not only the iconic man, but one of the most analyzed parts of American History.
Ryan: I do like how Spielberg approached Lincoln. There’s absolutely no conceivable way that one could create a biopic about Lincoln’s entire life in a standard movie’s time. It works well for the film’s benefit to concentrate solely on one major event as opposed to trying to pack everything into one film. By focusing on the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives, Spielberg allows the mechanics of that moment to symbolize what Abraham Lincoln was all about.
Andy: For all of Spielberg’s influence on this movie, it’s all about Daniel Day-Lewis. Once you get past the physical similarities, it is striking how Lewis is able to break some of the stereotypes of the Lincoln myth to create a real and believable human being. Lewis’ Lincoln frequently interrupts important meetings and vital discussions with his high-pitched, frontier drawl spinning yarn from his past. The stories are almost always a little goofy, and they always end with a piece of home-spun wisdom that brings clarity to the debate at hand. Lewis always pauses at key moments of the story, changing pace to keep the audience interested and to frame the key points of his story. This is not the booming oration that we frequently attach historically to Lincoln; this is a real guy from southern Indiana, who happened to be the right person at the right time to lead our nation through its most trying time.
Ryan: For lack of a better metaphor this is how I would describe Daniel Day-Lewis brilliant performance as Abraham Lincoln. It’s not outwardly flashy; it’s not Nolan Ryan pumping 100 mph fastballs down the plate en route to a 17 strikeout no-hitter. In my estimation it’s Greg Maddux changing speeds on the way to a complete game shutout with only 78 pitches thrown.
Both results are the same and both results are noteworthy but I would argue that in Maddux’s case his performance showed an artistry of pitching that was rarely seen yet extremely graceful. That is how I would classify Day-Lewis’ performance as Lincoln — a master craftsman displaying his skill in the most beautiful manner possible.
Lincoln is a great film that has some composition problems that are overshadowed by the masterful performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. Final grade: A-.