by Julian Spivey
The thing that has always drawn me in the most to films is great actors speaking great lines. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is the best example of this I’ve seen this year and because of it I was truly entranced during the film’s entire two and a half hour runtime.
Spielberg, one of the all time film directing legends, making a film about probably the most beloved President in United States history with a cast of Hollywood who’s whos is a no brainer to be a great film, but where Spielberg truly showed his genius was in the way he opted to adapt a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Team of Rivals’ with Tony Kushner penning the screenplay. “Lincoln” chooses not to run through the sixteenth President’s entire life, which would’ve been too much to handle and likely jumbled, but instead focuses on Lincoln’s final four months on earth and his desire to see the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, passed.
The standout of “Lincoln” is, of course, multiple time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis who absolutely gets lost in the performance of Lincoln and essentially becomes the President for the film’s entirety. Day-Lewis is such a gifted actor that you never for one second catch him acting and think, ‘hey, that’s Daniel Day-Lewis’. The thing about Day-Lewis’ performance that mesmerizes the most is the gentle humor he infuses into the role that, along with fellow actors like Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader, really brings out the genius of Kushner’s script. Day-Lewis is a lock for a best actor Oscar nomination and very likely will become the first actor in film history to win the award three times.
Another performance that is almost certain to garner an Oscar nomination is Tommy Lee Jones’ role as major abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, which effuses a perfect mixture of biting, sarcastic humor and a serious longing to see the end of slavery, which we understand at the end of the film in a nice little ‘a-ha’ moment.
The third performance that flat out knocked me off of my feet as a viewer was that of James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, a Southern lobbyist that served as one of three operatives (along with John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, who somewhat get overshadowed by Spader) who are used by Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, played perfectly by David Strathairn, to obtain the right amount of votes needed to get the Amendment passed. Spader brings his typical (especially to fans of his Emmy-winning role in “Boston Legal”) quirk to the role and really provides the film with some warm humor during such a serious time. Spader is equally deserving of an Oscar-nomination, but almost assuredly won’t receive one in a packed field this year.
Every performance in “Lincoln” is so fantastic that I could go through every single one and break it down praising each actor for their magnificent work, but it’s Day-Lewis, Jones and Spader that steal the show, for me. Other wonderful showings include Sally Field’s role as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, which will likely garner the multiple time Oscar winner another nomination, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s small role as Lincoln’s son, Robert, who’s conflicted between becoming a soldier (his wish) or returning to school (his parents’ wish) and Michael Stuhlbarg as George Yeaman, one of the key politicians the operatives try to convince to vote ‘yay’ on the Amendment.
One of the most exciting and great things about “Lincoln” is that Spielberg paces the film in such a way that you watch the Amendment voting almost as if it’s a sporting event rooting for every ‘yay’ and wanting to boo every ‘nay’. Even though we all know the end result from the start of the film, if you didn’t you obviously didn’t pay attention in high school history courses, we’re so caught up in this scene that Spielberg has to be lauded for this achievement. It’s one of the many highlights of the film.
“Lincoln” is the type of film that makes me realize why I developed a love for film in the first place. Movies are primarily supposed to be about performance and script above all else. In a time when it seems like all most moviegoers really want to see are explosions, superheroes, vampires and gross-out comedies it was an honor to see a film that truly understands what storytelling and movies are all about.