Lincoln - Trailer
Lincoln is a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President's tumultuous final months in office. Stars Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis as the President.PT2M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2c7ys 620 349 January 4, 2013
Who else but Steven Spielberg could possibly attack such grand subjects as the abolition of slavery and the cessation of civil war? One of the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time, Spielberg appears to have embraced the challenge with glee, following mixed fortunes with War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin (and extensive time producing television and film). His masterstroke, of course, is in casting the great Daniel Day-Lewis - possibly the finest actor alive today - to play the 16th president of the United States during a tumultuous second term in office in 1865.
This grand (and very long) drama begins with a fantasy sequence: Lincoln seated, almost identical to the towering monument of him in Washington, D.C., listening to two black slaves. But before long, we are taken away to be steeped in Capitol Hill politics, legal-eagle jargon and the manoeuvring that goes with it, as this upstanding family man boldly battles to abolish the slave trade, which he can only do before the hostilities of the Civil War are declared at an end.
Much has been made of Day-Lewis' impeccable performance - he seems almost certain to win best actor again at this year's Oscars - and rightly so. The long-time Irish resident (and now citizen) studied the subject voraciously, thumbing through more than 100 tomes on the great man. His Lincoln is older and greying: a thin, almost frail, voice evoking an almost unwavering air of wisdom, all too aware of the timeline he now faces.
Physically, Day-Lewis has matched the man's walk and posture, too. And, like his esteemed director, one can't imagine anyone else being even vaguely capable of pulling off this sort of performance, let alone attempting it on this scale.
Spielberg typically surrounds his leading man with A-grade support. Sally Field is quite breathtaking as Lincoln's no-nonsense wife, Mary, despite an obvious age difference (she's 10 years older than Day-Lewis in real life, her character here is 10 years her junior). Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, James Spader and Hal Holbrook all shine as chief ringleaders in the political house, where Lincoln's bills are challenged, discussed and finally voted upon. Indie film wunderkind Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also typically solid as Lincoln's son, whose sights are set on the battlefield and defeating the South, despite his father's wishes.
Some will no doubt baulk at the expansive running time - there is little doubt such matters could be covered adequately in much less than three hours. Conversely, the latter part of the film, which deals with Lincoln's assassination, feels somewhat rushed, as if the demise of the man was felt too raw to lay emphasis on.
Spielberg is known for his grand, sweeping, chest-beating gestures, and the finale is no exception, with a soaring score that feels a tad too sweet and glorifying, given the weight of what has gone before.
Subtlety has rarely been employed in his films. But then again, that's precisely from where such flourishes stem. After all, given Lincoln's bravura performance as a two-term president, perhaps such emotions are inevitable.
Regardless, this is easily Spielberg's best picture since Schindler's List. Like that multi-Oscar-winning film, Lincoln deals with a subject that's clearly close to the man's heart. At 66, he's armed with sufficient years behind him to tackle such a grandiose topic. The fact that we now have a two-term black president in the White House can't hurt, either.
Given the subject matter - and the heroic grandstanding that goes with it - Spielberg has wisely looked closely at how he can market such a film in his key territories around the world. Australia is receiving the full US edit, un-tinkered (unlike some of our neighbours). It will be interesting to see how well it plays outside North America, where US history is hardly a major feature in school syllabuses.
Once the hoo-ha has died down for the grand historical essay, we'll be back in more familiar Spielberg territory, where he's variously attached as director or producer or both. There are further Tintin films due out, a fourth belated stab at the Jurassic Park franchise, and yet another Indiana Jones adventure (the fifth in the series), as well as that sci-fi robot-uprising yarn, Robopocalypse.
None, though, is likely to carry the burden and sheer weight of this very fine picture, which could well shine bright come Oscars night.