The movie focuses entirely on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency. In this time, he seeks to put a stop to the Civil War, which has now begun its fourth year, but in doing so, he also hopes to pass the 13th amendment and abolish slavery. He has no problem with getting help within his own house, but he faces a challenge in convincing enough members of the Democratic Party to pass the bill. On the side, he’s also facing troubles within his own family, specifically his oldest son wanting to enlist in the Union.
That may seem fairly standard for a biopic, but the movie manages to transcend that. It’s a character study and commentary that gets down to its issues with aplomb. This is some of Steven Spielberg’s best direction, wisely dialing down the sentimentality, and allowing for a more refined, procedural, and organic presentation. Even his usual craftspeople tone down their own style, much to the film’s benefit. The way Spielberg handles actors is always a highlight as well, with a large cast of fantastic character actors that makes finding a standout among the supporting players tedious. None are better than Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. Virtually unrecognizable, and comfortably slipping into the emotion of the character like a pair of shoes, he gives another incredible performance to add to his already strong portfolio.
Then we get down to Tony Kushner, whose screenplay is the final necessary piece of this beautiful puzzle. He manages to get right into the head of Lincoln, his familial troubles, and his personality traits, and strongly examines the racial issues and bipartisanship without glossing over them. There are a lot of long conversations in this movie, and Kushner does well to make sure that they’re never boring. He deserves kudos for the riveting dialogue, and the appropriate doses of humor, but just as much thanks ought to go to Editor Michael Kahn and his fantastic pacing. The ending does seem a bit too long, but considering everything that came before it, I’m willing to forgive and overlook such a thing. The movie is a brilliant look into history, and a definitive representation of who Lincoln was as a person. Recommended without hesitation.
***** / *****