The Port Arthur News
Hollywood producers love to put Abraham Lincoln into their films. The 16th President has appeared in more than 300 movies, running the gamut from John Ford’s classic, “The Young Mr. Lincoln” to this year’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Despite all of this, none of those previous films have offered up as intimate a portrait of the man as is found in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” This is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look into history, and it’s the obvious front-runner for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
“Lincoln” starts out with a bloody Civil War scene, but the focus is really on the politics and back-room deals needed to get the 13th Amendment passed. It’s a tribute to Spielberg’s filmmaking abilities that despite knowing that the Amendment will eventually pass, the film frequently has you on the edge of your seat, with each “Yea” or “Nay” vote playing like a TV cliffhanger. History lessons are seldom so emotionally draining.
The other major credit goes to Daniel Day-Lewis for his quiet turn in the title role. Lincoln usually appears as a larger-than-life character in films, but Day-Lewis takes the more-authentic route, giving the Great Emancipator a high-pitched, reedy voice and a disheveled exterior that mask a man of great intelligence and iron-will convictions. It’s the best performance by an actor that I’ve seen all year.
Day-Lewis isn’t alone in turning in great work, with Sally Field, David Straitharn and especially Tommy Lee Jones shining in the film. There’s a who’s who of superb character actors on display here, most of them hidden behind unruly facial hair, but all of them turning in solid performances. If there was an Oscar for Best Acting Ensemble, “Lincoln” would get my vote.
If the film has a fault, it’s that despite a great screenplay by Tony Kushner, some of the subplots don’t quite seem up to par with the rest of the story. The home life melodrama, for example, just feels like it gets in the way of the main story, although I will admit that Lincoln’s interactions with his youngest son had me welling up with emotions.
At 2 ? hours, I would have preferred a tighter cut, and John William’s score is a bit intrusive at times, but the acting, writing, direction, cinematography and production design are all among the best of the year. This is a film featuring a group of artists all working at the top of their craft, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody when “Lincoln” becomes the film to beat when award season rolls around.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.