I don’t know what the studio was thinking. Entrusting the story of one of the most beloved Presidents in history to an inexperienced director like Steven Spielberg. Or how about casting that talentless hack Daniel Day Lewis in the lead role. Are they trying to win critical acclaim and multiple awards?
I mean Lincoln is a historical drama and I still felt suspense. Will the Academy ever nominate a period piece? Can Spielberg finally break his near 11 month drought of not having a movie nominated for Best Picture? Does Daniel Day Lewis have the shelf space left for a third Oscar? The tension was absolutely palpable.
Yes, it’s hard to think of a film that better fits the definition of Oscar bait than Lincoln. But before you become jaded by all the buzz surrounding this movie, just know that the hype is deserved. It’s early, but this has to be one of the clear frontrunners for Best Picture. And Daniel Day Lewis is about as sure a bet for a Best Actor nomination as I am that pizza is delicious. They don’t get more clear cut than this.
Lincoln follows the late President during the waning days of the Civil War as he tries to pass the 13th Amendment (the one that freed the slaves) through a hostile congress. It’s a relatively short period of Lincoln’s presidency, but the focus allows the film to really contextualize the era, and it’s better for it.
At its core, Lincoln is an intricate character study, and without the time taken to establish the complex politics of the era, much of what made the man great would be lost.
And that touches on an important point – this is a movie about Lincoln as he truly was, flaws and all, not the fable that has been perpetuated through history. That’s not to say that much of his legend isn’t deserved, just that he was a more complicated man than he’s normally depicted. And it’s that embracement of the inherent complexity of his character that really gives the film its legs. The Lincoln depicted here is an absolutely fascinating presence, and frankly it doesn’t matter what he’s doing, from deliberating with his cabinet to just talking with soldiers, you hang off the man’s every word.
For that reason Daniel Day Lewis’s performance cannot be understated. He is ultimately the person responsible for turning Lincoln into a real, living breathing human being, and he encapsulates the man so seemingly well, from the pitch of his voice to his mannerisms, to his absolutely unparalleled gift of persuasion, that you believe you’re watching him as he truly was. Just to see Lewis’s Lincoln tell a story is to believe you’re watching the President himself tell it to you.
That depiction aside, perhaps one of the more interesting insights of Lincoln is how similar the political process was then as it is currently. For those of you yearning for the good old days of politics, I think you best question that logic.
In some respects the political discourse of that time was even more toxic than it is now. Lincoln himself used several questionable tactics to pass his amendment, and while he was certainly right in the context of history, he would be vilified for many of them today.
By capturing the period of time as it truly was, with all of its blemishes intact, Lincoln’s story of the passing of the 13th Amendment becomes oddly applicable to a modern day audience.
The true brilliance of the film is its ability to explore such grand themes as idealism and compromise without ever devolving into an uninspired morality tale. In the end it does its title character justice and that’s no easy task.