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Lincoln: A Rather Stifled Affair

  • Daniel Day-LewisHal Holbrook...
  • Drama
  • Steven Spielberg
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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Lincoln: A Rather Stifled Affair
Partially based on a Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography novel of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and adapted to the screen by an award-winning playwright Tony Kushner, Stephen Spielberg’s highly anticipated political biopic is in fact not a biopic, but more like a memoir dressed up as a political drama.

Lincoln has all the elements of a cinematic masterpiece in, but does it really live up to the hype? Not so much.

It’s January 1865, and Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) has just been sworn in for his second term of presidency.  The Civil War is still dragging on and many, including Lincoln, would like to see it draw to a close.  Things are not so good on the home-front either; the President’s eldest son, Robert (Gordon-Levitt), is desperate to join the army and wife Mary (Field), is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of their son.

Determined to put an end to the bloodshed, President Lincoln’s relentless desire to abolish slavery via the Thirteenth Amendment is also a primary focus. Given that the amendment was rejected less than a year earlier, and with the country deeply bruised by the war, this became a highly risky proposition. In order for it to pass, President Lincoln must unite the interests of radicals and conservatives in his own Republican party, including the Republican House Ways and Means committee chairman, Thaddeus Stevens (Lee Jones).

The plot is relatively straightforward and the film’s approach in focusing on just a snapshot of Lincoln’s life, as oppose to his entire biography, is novel, though a little underwhelming. 

The film’s opening scenes are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan; a knee-deep brutal mud battle has the premise looking promising.  However, that feeling is soon gone as Lincoln descends into a dull and lifeless stage play. Surprisingly sluggish and very un-Spielberg like, most of the story takes place inside the musty walls of the House of Parliament and almost immediately moves away from Lincoln and instead turns its attention to the pounding fists of the House of Representatives. 

The only positive in this entire affair is of course Daniel Day-Lewis, who with all of his greatness holds the film together.  Although perhaps a little too solemn, Day-Lewis is flawless and is once again a mesmerising on-screen presence. As the somewhat unstable wife, Field also embodies her role well, despite a few theatrical moments. Unfortunately, Gordon-Levitt feels miscast but Lee-Jones absolutely shines.

Not only does it fail to live up to the hype but it also fails to live up to the magnificence of its leading man, who at the end of the day is the only reason to see this film.

Like This? Try

There Will Be Blood (2007), Schindler’s List (1993), My Left Foot (1989)

360 Tip

Once Daniel Day-Lewis decided on the voice that he would use to portray Lincoln, he sent an audiotape of it to Director Steven Spielberg in a box with a skull & crossbones on it so no one but he would hear it first.

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