America’s favourite top-hat-wearing president has never been the subject of a more important film than Lincoln, a political biopic which focuses on the final four months of his life, his fight to end the Civil War and pass the 13th Amendment, which in turn abolished slavery from the US. The film, which features Oscar worthy performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, arrives gift-wrapped by Mr. Hollywood himself, the overly sentimental Steven Spielberg. And while there is genuine mastery in the cinematic elements of Lincoln, I can’t help but feel that Spielberg has once again cheated his way to the top.
Lincoln paints a powerful and compelling portrait of the man who has become an icon and a symbol for freedom. America’s 16th president has never looked this accurate on-screen – the mesmerizing Daniel Day-Lewis gives a calculated performance equally matched by his physical appearance. Like a wax museum sculpture with a pulse, the wise Honest Abe stands tall, weary face, bearded chin, stovepipe hat and a kind Southern voice. Yet, even with all the attention to detail, there seems to be a sense of Hollywood mythmaking at work here – as would be expected. But just how long can a film ride on its great performances before you start concerning yourself with a plot? A mighty long way it seems.
The plot that drives the film concerns a weary Lincoln, who is focused on abolishing slavery before the Civil War ends. Despite opposition from those closest to him he moves to pass the 13th Amendment, declaring all men free. The Secretary of State reluctantly supports the plan and enlists the help of three shady negotiators to convince wavering members of Congress to vote in favour of the Amendment. Meanwhile, in an uninteresting subplot, Lincoln has to deal with grief from his bitter wife and their eldest son, who is bent on joining the war.
As expected, Spielberg’s sentimentality is present, but thankfully it’s overshadowed by the amazing costume design, set decoration and artistic expression. But make no mistake, this is a Day-Lewis’ film. Lincoln is all about showcasing the actor’s abilities. And, my oh my, what a great actor he is. The efforts of Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deserve to be commended, but they are overshadowed by a simple smile from the master.