Abraham Lincoln is having a great year. Interest in the great emancipator has swelled in pop culture with a few top selling books (Bill O’Reillys Killing Lincoln and Seth Grahame Smith’s ludicrous but fun Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to name a few), a movie adaptation of Honest Abe’s vampire killing exploits which didn’t really live up to expectations and even a commercial showcasing a unique talent our 16th president had seen here. Fortunately, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis deliver the definitive portrayal of one of the most influential men in our nation’s history.
Based off of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s novel Team of Rivals with a dynamite script written by Angel’s in America playwright Tony Kushner, Lincoln follows Daniel Day Lewis as the titular president in the last four months of his life as he works to end the civil war and pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery.
The film is vintage Spielberg with his faithful cinematographer Janusz Kaminski capturing gorgeous shots showing the toll the war had to somber scenes of the man who held the weight of the nation on his shoulders. Daniel Day Lewis adds another role to his long resume solidifying himself as the best character actor working right now. From his stooped physicality to his eloquence and unique talent of listening, DDL is Lincoln. The last movie I can remember where an actor embodies a character so well was Jeff Bridges as the struggling addict country singer in Crazy Heart.
Supporting DDL’s performance is a strong cast of secondary players. Beginning with Sally Field at Mary Todd, she chews the scenery as the grieving mother/supportive wife and deserves a supporting actress nomination especially for how hard she fought for this role. Tommy Lee Jones stands out as well as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and demonstrates once again he has more range than the grumpy, old curmudgeon seen in Men in Black.
Finally, a trio of lobbyists hired by lincoln’s secretary to help pass the amendment steal the show. Nearly unrecognizable, the three (James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson) work tirelessly to sway a series of senators to help pass it through the floor. Adding a bit of humor to balance out the gravitas, these performances are amusing. For any Justified fans, Walton Goggins has a small part as an increasingly agitated senator from Ohio.
Political movies are usually hit or miss but this is one of the few I feel is really commercial. It has something for everyone. Strong performances, well written and beautifully shot Lincoln is not to be missed. Head out and see it if you want something with substance (avoid Twilight) or something quiet (avoid Skyfall). Side note: Spielberg is one of the few directors who can make a political debate riveting.