First you hear yelling over pouring rain, the trudging of feet in mud and a piercing noise that can only be the sound of bayonets tearing flesh. Then you see white and black men alike, some donned in Union blue and others in Confederate gray, slaughtering one another over the land they all share. You’ve just been dropped in the middle of the U.S. Civil War circa 1865, but contrary to what the opening scene implies, the action in this movie takes place behind closed doors on the battlefield that is the White House and the floor of the House of Representatives.
“Lincoln” is a historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg that focuses in on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) term as president, during which he fights for the passage of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Though the biggest issue at hand appears to be the clash between Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, the main conflict actually rests internally with Lincoln, as he must decide which is more important for his country: an end to slavery or an end to war.
Day-Lewis is incredibly believable as the “gentle giant” president: he hobbles around the White House quietly while still managing to make his presence known with his towering height, bestowing tender smiles and kisses upon his young son. He gives off an almost fatherly feeling with his frequent stories that members of his party can always expect in the most dire situations. However, Day-Lewis is also quick to provide the necessary vigor Lincoln needs to fight for the 13th Amendment vote. Why other critics refer to Day-Lewis’s performance as “wooden” is beyond me; when frustrated by his cabinet, he waves his long arms in the air, slams his hands on tables and raises his voice to booming heights, clearly illustrating Lincoln’s passion and emotional investment in abolishing slavery.
One character deserving a more prominent role is Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Lincoln’s frustrated son who longs to join the army and fight for his country. Perhaps one of the most moving scenes occurs when Lincoln takes Bobby to visit war amputees in order to scare the idea out of him. Gordon-Levitt’s shaking hands and the raw emotion he expresses through his quick sobs conveys to the audience just a glance at the internal suffering he feels for not being able to do his duty.
I wasn’t a big fan of the portion of Lincoln’s life Spielberg chose to focus on. Though he goes into great depth and detail concerning the history behind the ratification of the 13th amendment to abolish slavery, the four months that “Lincoln” documents don’t feel nearly long enough.
This brings me to the second issue I had with the way the film was written: there is no premise, no beginning, no introduction. The audience is thrown into 1865, the middle and end of the Civil War, without warning. If you’re not too knowledgeable on the Civil War or Lincoln’s speeches and laws, you will probably get lost.
But plot problems aside, “Lincoln” is engaging and historically accurate in chronicling the 16th president’s last term as he attempts to abolish slavery and end a terrible war, once and for all. Abe doesn’t get any more honest than that.
Final Rating: 4/5