"Lincoln" Throwback Review
For about 145 of the 150-minute runtime, Lincoln is Steven Spielberg's greatest work and one of the best biopics ever produced. I will admit it leans too much towards Spielberg's super-sentimentality once the main conflicts are resolved and we are at the epilogue.
Like Martin Scorsese with Casino, Lincoln is part biopic, part history lesson on what it takes to pass anything in Congress, especially one of the most important amendments in our nation's history. Screenwriter Tony Kushner pushes past our preconceptions of the nobility that is involved in lawmaking.
Spielberg and Kushner don't sanitize Lincoln and his political actions. He essentially bought votes, twisted arms, and did anything he needed to do that wasn't explicitly illegal. Like William Seward says, the house is a rat's nest that you need to twist & tangle yourself through.
DP Janusz Kaminski and Production Designer Rick Carter take that rat's nest saying and apply it to their visual style. Instead of grand marble and strong architecture, the White House and House of Representatives is a dingy, dimly lit, and mute brown swamp full of colorful characters.
At the top of the pedestal is Daniel Day-Lewis's performance. Day-Lewis doesn't play Abraham Lincoln, he is Abraham Lincoln. Even for one of the most recognizable actors in cinema, it's near impossible to see Day-Lewis in the role. There isn't a moment that you're not in complete awe of what you're seeing on the screen.
The support of Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and the overlooked David Strathairn are all great as well. This is definitely Spielberg's most talkative film, and the actors take full advantage of that.
What's funny to say is that Steven Spielberg's direction is the weakest of the trifecta of directing, writing, and acting. It's funny because it sounds like Spielberg isn't up to snuff, when his direction is actually some of the best he's ever done. It's just that Kushner's script and the cast are generational best.
Lincoln is an every-timely, always entertaining, and enlightening political thriller about one man's ambition to let democracy have its day.