After two Academy Awards and a slew of iconic performances, Daniel Day-Lewis still manages to astound. As President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the actor looks like Lincoln, most likely talks like the man, and even walks like him. He is Abraham Lincoln, more so than even the robotic version of him at Disney World’s “Hall of Presidents.”
Anyone wondering what the legendary President was like in real life would do themselves a favor by watching “Lincoln.” Day-Lewis once again disappears into a role, making it impossible to determine where the real man begins and Lincoln ends. He’s probably the odds-on favorite to win his third Oscar for Best Actor. It may be his greatest performance to date.
Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” “Lincoln” details the President’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed in January of 1865, which would eliminate slavery. The Civil War is winding down, and Lincoln knows that bringing the Confederacy back into the Union’s fold isn’t enough. Slavery must be abolished completely, or the cycle that led America to Civil War will only continue throughout the ages. It’s a very touchy subject, since the South feels it will destroy their economy, and even members of Congress feel that slaves are not “whole people,” put in their place by God.
Written by Pulizter Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”), “Lincoln” looks and feels very much like a play. Spielberg tones down his usual style for wide shots featuring several characters, like you would see on stage. The script is also quite talkative, with every actor, from Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and even Lee Pace, getting lyrical monologues that let them show off their acting chops. These monologues not only slow down the plot, which is threadbare at best, but balloons the film’s run time to 149 minutes.
Not to say “Lincoln” is a bloated, boring film. Far from it. The film provides a fascinating look into the back-room deal making and plotting that goes into getting something as huge and controversial as the 13th Amendment passed, with Lincoln dispatching a group of men, led by John Hawkes and James Spader, to offer lame duck representatives on the fence about the vote lucrative positions in government when their Congressional term ends. The most intriguing aspect of these dealings is how closely the politics of 1865 mirror those of 2012.
Spielberg, who has wrecked some of his films with over-sentimentality, including “War Horse” and “War of the Worlds,” tones that cheese down to almost nothing. For once, he’s allowed himself to simply capture all of the fantastic performances without weighing down the film with sentiment, making “Lincoln” the best film he’s made since 2002’s “Minority Report.”
“Lincoln” is going to receive several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. It won’t win many of those categories, save actor, but “Lincoln” is a breath of fresh air from Steven Spielberg, who at 65-years-old seemed to be running on empty.