25-31 January 2013 #640


A film about the power of words, and the personality of a great man who changes the world with his strength of character
Sophia Pande
Lincoln is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, with a little help from Daniel Day-Lewis. In many ways, this latest profound and layered film is Spielberg’s most thoughtful and adult film to date. Perhaps that is an absurdly lofty thing to say about the beloved director of Jaws (1975), E.T. (1982), the Indiana Jones films (well, not the last one), and yes, the first Jurassic Park (1997), but all of these aforementioned films, though spectacular and imminently watchable do not have even a fraction of the gravitas of Lincoln.

Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film concentrates on the final four months of the president’s life when the civil war is coming to an end and the South is on the verge of surrender. Recognising that slavery can only be truly abolished in America by adding an amendment to the constitution itself, and this too before the end of war after which the former status quo of enslavement may be re-established, Abraham Lincoln and his trusty advisors race against time and the turning tide to create a nobler, freer United States of America.

While everyone knows the tragic end of Lincoln’s life, I imagine not many of us have given it any real thought outside of our school history books. Watching Spielberg’s film will change that.

By some sort of intangible actorly alchemy, Daniel Day-Lewis has become Lincoln himself, channeling that great man’s spirit, if you will. When he speaks in his weary but always humorous voice, everyone around him is riveted, enraptured by his long-winded but endearing anecdotes and jolted by his endless wisdom and magnanimous nature.

Following a marvelous, highly sophisticated script by Tony Kushner, Day-Lewis is supported by an equally marvelous and colourful cast, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their eldest son Robert, David Strathairn as William H Seward, the long suffering Secretary of State, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, one of the few men of the time who truly believed that all men are created equal, and James Spader in a hilarious turn as William N Bilbo, a republican party operative hired by Seward and Lincoln to scurry around garnering enough votes to pass the now famous 13th Amendment to the American constitution, ending slavery altogether.

This is a film about the power of words, and the personality of a great man who changes the world with his extraordinary strength of character. The heart aches when looking upon Lincoln’s aged face, his deep set eyes turned inward in profound thought, and then again twinkling with sly mischief.

As the film unfolds and one grows to care ever more deeply for this man, for both his private and public grief, it is with a sinking heart that we remember the terrible night of his assassination at the theatre. To be honest, when I realised that Spielberg would not shirk from depicting that last awful event, I closed my eyes, opening them only for the final scene.

I haven’t yet seen all of the other Best Picture nominees for this year’s Academy awards, and while I hope and imagine Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty will be another kind of masterpiece, part of me screams for Spielberg, Kushner, and Day-Lewis to be awarded for a film that will stand the test of time and remain a classic for all.

Trailer of Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg