“Do you think we choose the times into which we are born? Or do we fit the times we are born into?”
The American Civil War has been raging on for nearly 4 years and Abraham Lincoln is trying to broker peace – but not before he can broker freedom. He wants to end slavery but knows that if the war ends before he can pass the 13th Amendment then the Confederacy states keep their power and slavery lives on for generations. This is a look at the man who changed history and effected change in a charismatic (and wordy) fashion. This is not a biopic of Honest Abe’s life but rather a more intrinsic focus on a self-educated, idealist in the last year of his life and the lengths he went to in order to ensure that slavery did not live on, with the help of three men (James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes) commissioned to garner the necessary votes, by underhanded means, required to pass the unwelcome amendment into law.
Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York) IS Abraham Lincoln (a role initially offered to Liam Neeson). He captures the essence of arguably America’s greatest president – a man who could command a room’s attention with his stories and his speeches and at the same time could blend in like one of the locals. Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men, Men in Black) is a scene stealer as cantankerous fellow idealist Thaddeus Stevens who despite the era believed that all were created equal in the eyes of God and should be treated as such. David Strathairn (The Bourne Legacy) is inspired as his patient but vocal Secretary of State unafraid to voice his unpopular opinions of the President’s intentions. This film boasts a great supporting cast in both large and small roles, everyone leaves an impact and even elicit laughs.
It’s a true testament to the skill of the director, writer and cast that a film devoid of action but full of back room conversations and speeches can draw you in and hold your attention despite its length and our knowledge of its conclusion. Lewis makes Abraham Lincoln seem larger-than-life and yet human all at once with his woodenly gait, stoop, natural gravitas and world-weary face. Tony Kushner (Munich) has masterfully written a fantastic script with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln book as his canvas. Lincoln is not a typical Steven Spielberg foray into the history books but is more akin to a high end stage production (which may bore some). This is somewhat ironic as the theatre is where Abraham Lincoln met his untimely demise.
On February 12th 1809, a boy was born, with a hunger for knowledge, barely an education, and a pragmatism that would change the face of American history and the world. He was by no means a saint but a man battling to balance his moral centre and family problems with his running of a broken and divided nation. Steven Spielberg, aided by John William’s gentle score and Janusz Kaminski’s authentic cinematography, has captured that almost perfectly in this film (with some inaccuracies) and though this may appeal more to our fellow men across the Atlantic – it is still the best and most honest portrayal I’ve seen of America’s 16th president. It’s a must see and one that moved me to tears both in the opening and closing scenes and I’m not American.