From the looks of it, there’s an Abraham Lincoln craze going on. Six months ago, Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton brought us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; a horror and action film based on the novel of the same name. In this take on the Abraham Lincoln story, the narrator supposedly possesses a secret diary detailing Honest Abe’s life as if he were a male, top-hat wearing version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
While the probability of Lincoln fighting the undead can be put up for debate, Steven Spielberg’s biographical film, Lincoln, is based on historical accounts of the president’s fight for equality and the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation that would officially abolish slavery.
This historical drama follows Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) in his final sprint to pull together the votes he needs to abolish slavery and end the war, while dealing with a less-than-perfect home life.
His wife, Mary (played by Sally Field), is still grief stricken over the premature death of their son, William and is plagued by incurable headaches. Lincoln’s beloved eldest son, Robert (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies both his parents’ wishes when he decides to join the war, causing further grief to both his parents. At one point, Mary lashes out at Lincoln, blaming him for her unconsoled grievance and accusing him of only remaining with her because of Robert.
Meanwhile, Lincoln is endlessly encouraging his men to scrounge up the last 20 votes needed to pass the 13th amendment to the constitution, while both the Democrats and his own Republican party try to convince him that it’s pointless. There is a very visible strain on Lincoln as he juggles war, politics and home-life while trying to keep himself, his party and his people optimistic.
Cinematography-wise, the use of natural lighting, having the actors lit by light coming in from windows and lamps, while harsh in some situations and dark in others, plays well to the mood of the era and film. The high contrast created also adds a certain artistic flair, sharpening expressions and adding grit.
There are also several beautiful scenes in which not a single word is said. One such scene is of Lincoln and his youngest son Tad, where the camera work says more than words ever could about Lincoln being and having the time to be a caring father-figure as well as a powerful political leader. Near the beginning of the film, Lincoln finds Tad asleep in front of the fireplace and lays down next to him to wake him and carry him to bed. A heartwarming scene that shows the man as not only a dedicated leader but also a caring parent.
The story follows not only Lincoln in his day-to-day work of meeting with fellow politicians, meeting with soldiers, giving speeches, working in war-rooms, but it also follows his men at work in the field, debating and watching debates in the House and sometimes just discussing the possibilities of the future amongst themselves. In reality, there were a lot of people involved in the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, meaning there are a lot of characters to follow in the film, which may play into why the movie was so very long.
There is quite a bit of monologues and political dialogue, but it is well balanced with, believe it or not, humour, such as the old-school political mud-slinging and slander in the House between the Republicans and Democrats, which makes for good comedy.
Day-Lewis expertly goes from laid-back Lincoln to motivational-presidential-speech Lincoln to Stuart-McLean-this-reminds-me-of-a-story-Lincoln in nothing flat. The latter often giving Lincoln’s men, and the audience, a good laugh.
That being said, viewers may find the film a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, going from serious to humorous to sad several times throughout the film.
Despite the two and a half hour length and the inevitable, tragic ending, Lincoln is a blockbuster. The acting is captivating, the camera work is fantastic and the mix of Lincoln’s light-hearted quirky stories and the seriousness of the subject matter is just enough to keep the historical biography from being dry.
Watch the trailer for Lincoln: