I understand that many people feel as though they already know the story of Abraham Lincoln . We grow up learning about him in grade school and are taught all about his wonderful achievements as a president. So why would Steven Spielberg want to research and fine tune for over a decade to make this movie? Probably the same reason any artist takes a long time on their work—he wanted to make a masterpiece.
The story focuses around the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency and life. Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is forced to balance two of the most important decisions of his presidency in ending the Civil War and passing the 13th amendment that would forever abolish slavery in the United States . In order to accomplish these tasks, Lincoln employs the help of his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) to secure the votes needed for the amendment while he attempts to secure surrender from the southern states. In addition, he must also deal with his personal demons relating to his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), and his son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Much of the action is concentrated on the debates over the amendment vote in the House of Representatives. Led by the strong supporting role of Tommy Lee Jones who plays Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, the back-and-forth between Jones and his opponents offers many of the humorous and memorable moments from the film. However, the most powerful and memorable scenes come from Day-Lewis’s portrayal of President Lincoln.
The film may start out a little slow for some viewers, but the political drama and humor throughout the film are definitely enough to keep the attention of the audience. Never has the portrayal of the United States legislative process been so enthralling. Besides, the overall goal of the movie is not to thrill people with action sequences, but to offer a new perspective on the one of the greatest presidential stories of all time. Spielberg does a fantastic job of mixing dialogue-driven exchanges and brooding shots of Lincoln that reveal the inner turmoil felt at the end of his life. The movie allows Lincoln’s character to shine without sinking too far into the rhetoric that slogs many political dramas down.
Ultimately, this film is driven by the outstanding performances turned in by Day-Lewis and his supporting cast. This is not necessarily the flashiest of roles for Day-Lewis, but one that should cement his status among the greatest and most respected actors of his generation. The nuance and subtlety that he brings to the part of Lincoln will leave most moviegoers wondering if he really is the beloved 16th president. The sheer gravitas that Day-Lewis lends to the role is unparalleled. Sally Field is excellent in the role of the eccentric Mary Todd Lincoln. The wide range of emotions she conveys allows the character to be tragic, yet accessible to the audience. Tommy Lee Jones also turns in one of the greatest performances of his career that is sure to garner some praise and accolades come award season. The brilliant directing by Spielberg only helps to make this film one of the best of the year and a certain best picture contender come January, even if it may not be considered his greatest masterpiece of all time.