When I heard that Spielberg was doing a biopic of Lincoln, I groaned. It pained me to see one of my favourite directors wasting his talents on an unoriginal, boring biopic. Keep in mind I had not seen the movie yet, this was all based on assumptions. But as the film released and I learned more about it, I discovered that it wasn’t a lame birth-to-death biopic so much as a snapshot in the life of one of the greatest figures in history. That’s when I became interested.
Indeed, Lincoln does manage to escape the usual trappings of biopics by focusing the story to passing the 13th amendment. Other important aspects of his life, such as his son dying early and his relationship with his father, are touched upon but not dragged before us through linear storytelling, which is where other more monotonous biopics (Walk the Line, The Aviator) falter. However, on this note I will say that I was disappointed that they dealt with his assassination as I felt the tightness of the story unraveled a bit and it was actually quite unnecessary in the scope of the story being told. I guess Spielberg just couldn’t resist.
I loved this movie. I need to mention here that I am a huge fan of The West Wing, and Lincoln felt like 19th Century West Wing to me, which definitely won me over. The politics behind getting this bill passed is not as dull as one may think and in fact plays out quite fascinatingly.
And just like The West Wing, Lincoln relies heavily on its dialogue which is, glad to say, outstanding. It has just the right amount of humour and seriousness, with the humour being just pithy enough and the seriousness holding just the right weight so that its not too corny and not ineffectual.
But the real showcase of this movie is the performances. Spielberg puts together a solid ensemble of supporting characters for this film. Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens and is a joy to watch. David Strathairn plays secretary of state Seward with solid conviction. Sally Field turns the role of Mary Todd Lincoln from what could be a predictable performance for that type of role into something rather surprising. But above it all is the incredible performance of Daniel Day Lewis as the man in the stovepipe hat himself. Lewis’ performance is pure genius. He manages to make this larger-than-life figure feel human and relatable. He is soft-spoken yet the characters in the film and the members of the audience are always drawn towards what he is saying. He just sells it; every part of it.
Lincoln is certainly one of Spielberg’s best films of the last decade. It is chock-full of great acting, great writing, and it looks fantastic too. The book ends of this film are its weaknesses; the cheesy opening scene and the unnecessary, drawn-out ending. However everything in between is pure historical gold.