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Lincoln Is Cinematically Illuminating

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 12, 2012 9:40PM

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
It is expertly timed that the limited release of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln fell between Election Day and Veterans Day weekend. As a country, we are quite literally moving "forward" from what feels like a long presidential campaign and are remembering the many brave men and women responsible for our country’s freedom. It is in this spirit of change and hope amid sacrifice that Spielberg’s political drama skillfully sings the song of an American hero.

With an opening scene alluding heavily to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski frames the narrative through the lens of the brutality and exceptionally bitter loss that was found on American soil throughout the Civil War. Though it’s based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, what follows is less a biography and instead more of a political spectacle as Lincoln and his cabinet members search desperately for ways to both end the excruciating Civil War and also pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is one that strikes an eerie balance between brilliance and familiarity; we live in an age where you can Google candid shots of President Obama in any political or personal scenario, yet what the average American knows of Lincoln’s life is from old black and white photos. However, following the opening scene on the battlefield, we are expected to digest Mr. Lincoln lying casually in his bedroom in his socks discussing politics and an upcoming party with his wife (played vividly by Sally Field). We are not criticizing Day-Lewis’ extraordinary method acting; to do so would be an injustice given the immense challenge of portraying a man without whom we would not be the United States that we are. In fact, we know Day-Lewis’ faultless commitment to everything Lincoln including his walk and talk is Oscar-worthy. I merely state that the challenge of portraying Lincoln in a domestic environment was ambitious, and it was ultimately accomplished well.

Any disorientation experienced seeing Abraham Lincoln with his hands folded and feet warming by the fire became less relevant as one appreciats the depth and humor of Tony Kushner’s Sorkin-esque screenplay and its dazzling depiction of a political race to legislative equality. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance as the Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens is one that adds wit and perspective to Lincoln’s fight for unity and fairness; indeed it is involving his character following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment that viewers will experience the most tender and poignant moment of the film.

David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward leads the farcical attempt to pressure and bribe members of both parties to vote for the Amendment that no doubt rings unsurprisingly true to the stampede for political power and action in Washington today.

Lincoln is a bold, transcendent project that aims to inspire and shed light on what was a tremendously precarious and emotional time in our country’s history. Day-Lewis’ portrayal of an American luminary will linger and wholly satisfy.

Lincoln is scheduled for wide release on Friday, November 16.

By: Victoria Pietrus