Lincoln - A Biopic of Unparalleled Magnificence

                           Steven Spielberg -- the master of spectacle -- don't need an introduction or more accolades. He is famous for his alien and dinosaur movies. But, it's also high-time to acknowledge him as the great actor's director. Twenty years ago, Liam Neeson cemented his reputation under the direction of Spielberg in "Schindler's List." Now, his latest historical epic bestows us with a multi-nuanced performance of Daniel Day-Lewis -- two time Oscar Winner. Delivering an unimpeachable performance as the United States most revered president, Lewis has lived as "Lincoln" (2012). The masterful drama, "Lincoln" also does one thing which is kind of impossible to achieve : Spielberg has made politics exciting. 

                          Lincoln isn't your traditional biopic. The movie was originally envisioned as the sprawling biopic covering the entirety of the 16th President’s life. But, thankfully the movie was focuses on the intense final months of Lincoln’s second term, in which he successfully passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, thus ending slavery, and brought the Civil War to an end before being assassinated. Spielberg shows Lincoln's private and public struggle to free both the slaves and end the war. 

                        The film opens with mud and blood in the American civil war battlefield, where Union and Confederate soldiers are hacking and slashing at each other. After powerfully depicting the violence of war at its hand-to-hand ugliest, we see through the floor of congress. Even though, there is no blood spilled here, another war -- a cold war -- was going on in the Capitol’s sacred halls, this one fought with bullying ornateness, angry denunciations, sharp attacks, and plenty of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing. The president, Lincoln is in a duel dilemmas: how to bring the war between the states to an end, and how to eradicate slavery, once and for all. 

                        In the House of Representatives, he needs to pass the 13th amendment (to abolish slavery). To attain this, he must avert even a single Republican defection and gain at least 20 votes from Democrats. Apart from the president no one thinks the Amendment stands a chance of passing in the Senate and the House, and many thinks that the Emancipation Proclamation was only a wartime measure. Lincoln is relentless, “I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power. You will procure me these votes,” he orders. The movie is all about his tactics, some of which would be considered "dirty" (even though not by today's dubious standards). 

                      Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner has based their story from Doris Kearns Goodwin's  history  book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Only few writers could make politics as compelling as Kushner does here. The gifted Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter has --previously collaborated with Spielberg on the 2005 Oscar nominated “Munich,” -- done a commendable job of clarifying the positions and personalities of the two dozen or so political players. By showcasing Lincoln's most momentous stark moments, both Spielberg and Kushner has uncovered the unpredictably human nature of a democracy’s greatest battle in action. Janusz Kaminski's conservative framing -- Spielberg's favorite cinematographer -- recalls the heavily shadowed Renaissance paintings. He adds a lot to the rich feel of the superbly detailed production design by Rick Carter (another Spielberg regular).

                     Director Spielberg, has earlier admitted that he has been obsessed with the 16th president since he was a boy. As an auteur, he has clearly honored the man and has made a motion picture befitting his stature. His attempts at revealing the human side of Lincoln is the movie's grandest moments, thanks to Daniel's exemplary performance and the cast that surrounds him. There are some Spielberg’s visual hallmarks, particularly the ethereal blown-out windows and the sharp juxtaposition of light and dark, though he  has mostly adopted a more nuanced and highly restrained directorial style that gives the actors plenty of room to work. 

                     Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln comes forth as a man of many faces, a figure of raw paradoxes and contradictions. He presents Lincoln as the playful storyteller, a great raconteur, a fierce power broker, a shrewd commander in chief, a vulnerable father and a loving yet ruthless husband. Lewis carries the weight of history at the same time he is also rooted in the day-to-day emergencies of statesmanship."Lincoln" has a stupendous amount of supporting actors, and despite being enormous it never feels overwhelming. Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln is an loving, but emotionally unstable wife. Sally perfectly exhibits Mary's greatest fear, which is losing another child to the war. Tommy Lee Jones as the radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens comes very close to stealing the movie with a performance of ethical purity and calm. I hope he bags the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

                   James Spader as Lincoln's political operative and David Strathairn as secretary of State, William Seward also give their best performance to steal the show. The 87 year old Hal Holbrook has a field day by acting as Preston Blair. There are also other good actors in the cast as well, including Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Hawkes and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose roles, this year are really astonishing in its versatility. 

                  In "Lincoln", Lincoln's life takes a secondary position  to the ideological conflict between two opposing ideas -- an end to slavery, or an end to war. So, it is captivating to see what it really took to secure Lincoln's legacy as the "Great Emancipator." You might have read a lot about Lincoln in history books but there were things in Spielberg's Lincoln of which you will be surely unaware. This isn't a hagiography, and in the end we are left not with a impenetrable iconic image, but with a flesh-and-blood man who felt compelled to make something right and did literally everything in his power to accomplish it. 

                   If you think “Lincoln” is too chatty — too full of ideas and characters, too much for the Twitter-generation, then you better restrict yourself with the unpalatable "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."


Lincoln - IMDb


provoqd said...

Hi Arun,

This looks like a good film, especially since it has been made my Spielberg. Will watch this.


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FolkTalesUrbanLegends said...

Eagerly waiting for this....

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Wonderful review. Time to check it out. Wanted to wait for bluray, but guess will watch it anyways

Priyadarshini Ghosh said...

Hi Arun,

Your blog appears to me to be just the perfect place for a movie buff like me. Its not only interesting but very well structured. Kudos !

Interestingly, I just finished watching 'Lincoln' ! Daniel Day-Lewis happens to be my fav. I won't say this was his best, but the man left me wondering, as to how terrific an actor he is. My personal favs from the Lewis factory is 'My Left Foot' and 'There will be Blood'.

I loved your reviews. Keep writing. Cheers !

Arun Kumar said...

@Priyadarshini Ghosh, Thanks for the appreciative comment. My most favorite performance of DDL is "There will be Blood." But, i think he definitely deserve Oscar for Lincoln too.

Keep visiting the blog.