Lincoln

Lincoln is not just a masterpiece or a very important and powerful film for the sake of calling it so. By its very making, director Steven Spielberg has written the greatest obituary for one of the greatest leaders of the modern world.

The very mention of a Steven Spielberg project and everyone goes bug-eyed in excitement and curiosity; everyone from casual movie goers to mainstream critics to cinema house managers. Now reunite Spielberg with long standing producing partner Kathleen Kennedy, throw in a multi-award winning star cast lead by Daniel Day-Lewis and a story about one of the most revered Presidents in US history and you have an Academy Award nominated movie by default. Lincoln has all these fine qualities and a whole lot more. This is not just a great film for the reasons stated above, or because it is very easy to praise a film directed by Spielberg. This is also not just a masterpiece or a very important and powerful film for the sake of calling it so. From the drawing boards to its last take, Lincoln is every bit exquisitely fashioned filmmaking — an amalgamation of art, literature, politics, society, history, and most importantly, humanism.

Here’s a brief re-cap to get you up to speed on the relevance of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) as depicted in the film. The United States of America is divided as cotton rich states of the South refuse to phase out slavery. After Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln secures the Presidency, almost a dozen states in the South pull out of the ‘Union’ and become the Confederate States of America. As a bloody civil war rages between North and South, the film’s story begins with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This is the Commander and Chief of the armed forces calling for slavery to be abolished in all states by seeking a landmark constitutional amendment. For this to happen, Lincoln must procure enough votes through Congress for a stay order on making slavery illegal anywhere in America. Challenged with factions within his Republican party, Lincoln becomes his own worst enemy in a daunting personal crisis: save thousands of lives by ending the war or prolong the war in favour of ending slavery.

Running at 150 minutes, this film is a slow burner with extensive dialogues and frequent courthouse debates; but like the trudging power of a steam locomotive, Lincoln pushes forward with remarkable pace while never losing sight of its destination. Piloting this powerhouse of a film is Daniel Day-Lewis in easily his finest hour as a method actor. His Lincoln is tall and bent over with war-stressed fatigue and a shrill voice, but armed with a quiver full of wisdom and remedial anecdotes for when push comes to shove. Throughout the narrative Lincoln is torn within as he manages his duties as the President of a nation, as a father who has lost a son, and as a husband who must confide in his wife when decisions become complex. This is also when I must mention Sally Field in another fine delivery as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and the epitome of the phrase ‘Behind every great man is a woman’. Field’s Mary is a tragic character whose depiction of a bleeding heart is memorable in a scene where she confronts Lincoln as the father of their children, not a man with immense power. With strong characterisation forming the flesh and blood of the film, you can also expect riveting roles from Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn, besides a multitude of top actors.

This is one of the most important films of the year and perhaps even the times we live in. By its very making, Spielberg has written the greatest obituary for one of the greatest leaders of the modern world. Lincoln is to Steven Spielberg what Gandhi is to Richard Attenborough; the commonality being crucial moments in history, rather than a history lesson per se. If I have to nit-pick, I suspect there could be historical anomalies in the narrative if this film is solely considered a biopic. This is why I strongly recommend the film as a political drama rather than a componential biography. Is it safe to say that President Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man? That he was extremely intelligent despite dropping out of school? That he changed the future of an entire nation? That Barak Obama is the current President of the United States of America because Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery? If you said ‘yes’ to any of these questions then Lincoln is more than just an Academy Award magnet—it is a landmark film made by people reiterating that freedom is a birth right for people everywhere.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.