STARRING: Daniel-Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Two and a half hours of talky historical politics sounds like hell. However, in the hands of Steven Spielberg, it is quite the opposite. Lincoln is not a traditional biopic. Instead of showing a sweeping overview of a person’s life, the film focuses in on the final months of Lincoln’s second term of office, and is more the story of a political moment than a man. That moment is Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th amendment, banning slavery. Don’t worry if, like me, American history is a closed book to you, as even though Lincoln demands a lot from its viewers in terms of concentration, the storytelling is utterly compelling and the politics is very human, not dry.
The accessibility of what may seem like quite a dry subject is thanks to a lightness of touch from Spielberg that saves the film from over-wordy stodginess. Humour is rooted out from the serious subject matter, and Lincoln himself is not treated in such a reverential way that he becomes inhuman, as is the risk with biopics of such beloved figures. Superbly played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who completely disappears into the character, Lincoln is warm and witty, a brilliant raconteur and a ruthlessly determined president. His reedy voice takes some getting used to (in an age before microphones, a light tenor voice carried better and cemented Lincoln’s reputation as a great orator) but is consistent with Spielberg’s dedication to authenticity. In a scene featuring Lincoln’s ticking watch, Spielberg actually borrowed the real thing from the Smithsonian so that it was right. Aside from Daniel Day-Lewis, the cast is brilliant, especially a wig-tastic Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field’s as Lincoln’s wife. Two and a half hours of talky historical politics has never been so interesting, uplifting and, at times, hilarious.