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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Lincoln | Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, David Strathairn | Review

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Lincoln

If you are expecting Lincoln to be a biographical look into the life of America's 16th President, tagged 'The Great Emancipator', you would be very wrong. Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is written by playwright Tony Kushner who loosely based his script on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” and revolves around Lincoln's behind the scenes manipulations to get the 13th amendment passed by Congress during his last four months in the White House.

Set in 1865, when America was in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln was convinced the only way to bring peace and unite the nation was to abolish slavery though the passage of the 13th amendment. In order for that to happen Lincoln and his party, the Republicans, had to get bipartisan support from the Democrats, who believed that too many problems would arise with the emancipation of slaves and their integration into white American society.

Forget the crash course in American history or its historical significance. The best reason to see this film is Daniel Day Lewis’s mesmerizing portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, one of our country's most beloved presidents/commander in chief. The brilliant, chameleon actor totally immerses himself into the role, leaving behind any trace of his British accent, disappearing into the persona of the tall Illinois born politician. I can only assume he researched everything he could about Lincoln and brilliantly conveys his physical appearance, measured mannerisms, stature, walk, speech pattern and mindset. If anyone is a shoo in for Best actor nomination it is Day Lewis. The buzz is that he is favored to win the coveted award, which would be his third.

The supporting cast are also excellent. Sally Field is superb as Lincoln's wife, first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, a fierce, strong willed, yet emotionally fragile woman behind the man, who was haunted by the death of her first born son who died when he was only a child. Field stated on a talk show that she fought to land the role of the often misunderstood woman that was deemed mentally unstable and later institutionalized. Field had to audition several times before Spielberg was convinced she was a good fit for the part. And that was after Lewis flew in from Ireland and tested with the actress, who gained 25 lbs on her small frame as part of her commitment to get inside the body as well as the mind of the considerably overweight Mrs. Lincoln. More than a decade older than Day Lewis, Field, not to be intimidated, goes head to head with the gifted actor, especially in one powerful, riveting scene that proves why she remains one of the best actresses working today.

Tommy Lee Jones, chews the scenery as Thaddeus Stevens the Republican House Leader and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who is Lincoln's main ally, a staunch believer in racial equality. A portly, mustachioed, almost unrecognizable James Spader makes a welcome return to the big screen addng some humor as one of the three lobbyists (the other two portrayed by John Hawke and Tim Blake Nelson) dispatched by Secretary of State Seward (a stern David Strathaim) for the Republican party.

Sadly, Joseph Gordon Levitt is wasted in a small role as Robert Lincoln, the President's eldest son determined to join the army against the wishes of his parents who fear they would be losing another child.

Also featured in smaller roles are Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Gloria Reuben as Mary’s black (before the term African American was considered politically correct) dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.

While the acting is top notch and the production, set design and costumes down to every meticulous detail are magnificently recreated, what drags this film down is the constant spewing of overlong monologues. More often than not, much of the dialogue between characters comes across as political speeches, that should have been relegated to the floor of the “house”.

There are moments of overly blown sentimentality, which the director is known for, but for the most part there is not the syrupy, schmaltz you come to expect from a Spielberg film. I don't see Lincoln as one of his best works, although many might want to debate me on that.

Released just after the Presidential election when America is once again divided about the direction on where we are headed politically and economically, a relevant point is made about one thing that hasn't changed over the centuries. And that is the back door strategic, political maneuvers and persuasions to accomplish a goal. Unlike politicians, I am not trying to convince anyone on what to do. Given the information in this review, it is your prerogative to see this film or not.

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