Set against the backdrop of the American Civil war, Lincoln follows the 16th President of the United States as he struggles with his own cabinet over his decision to end slavery.
Everything you have heard about Lincoln is true. Daniel-Day Lewis deserved the accolade given to him by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but the film does not always hold up under the weight of powerhouse performances.
It hardly seems like news, but Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic as Abraham Lincoln. Just as the character dreams that he is alone on a ship, Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is alone is his calmness and stoicism. It is easy to see why the American public loved their President, if the real Lincoln was half as magnanimous, calm and endearing as Day-Lewis portrays him, then he was someone who deserved public love and admiration.
There is a whole host of familiar faces supporting Day-Lewis in his quest to make Academy Award history, including Sally Field – herself nominated for a Golden Globe – Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Jared Harris, John Hawkes… The list goes on. Each are wonderful in their way, but the real standout from the background is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Jones has a reputation for being grumpy in real life, so maybe this is where he found his inspiration; as Stevens he is impatient and brings some much needed levity to an incredibly serious film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt fares less well; he is great in the couple of moments he is on screen, but he is simply not given enough screen time to make much of an impact.
Where the film falls down, however, is in it’s script. The dialogue is top notch, and the Parliamentary debates are certainly interesting – not least to see how American politics have changed over the years – but while the scenes keep moving at a good pace, the film as a whole lags and begins to lose momentum in the second half. Lincoln had a reputation as a storyteller, but it seems that screenwriter Tony Kushner should have taken a leaf from his subject’s book in terms of brevity.
In terms of direction; this feels as though it could be a new chapter for veteran director Steven Spielberg. This is not the action packed blockbuster that we have come to associate with the director, but somehow, it is. There is plenty of action in there – even though the film seems to fall over, then drag its feet in the final act – but Spielberg appears to be moving more toward the contemplative and away from the fantasy.
In all, Lincoln is a sober and oddly personal affair. Each performance is incredible; Daniel Day-Lewis is on top form here and Tommy Lee Jones stands out from his supporting cast. With this spectacular and sprawling film, Spielberg proves that he is as good at loquacious films as he is at action ones, although with some of the pacing issues, he may still be finding his feet.