Written by / 2/28/2013 / No comments / , , ,

DANIEL DAY LEWIS IS LINCOLN

year: 2012 cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader rating: ***
While a more fitting title would be THE 13TH AMENDMENT, as the film primarily deals with the passing of the law to free the slaves, LINCOLN focuses on a President who had the determination to see something through – all the way through till the end: It just may take a few minutes to adhere to the voice and stature Daniel Day Lewis provides our 16th President. Sounding like a decrepit small town barber suffering a cold, Lincoln walks with a jangly gait – at times seeming too frail to hold himself uptight – and that stove top hat looks about to envelop his wiry frame. But DDL's Lincoln tells wonderful parable/stories that serve to convince friends and opponents alike… While his feeble manner is explained aptly by one character, noting how the Civil War, and being responsible for the deaths therein, can age a man considerably. It’s how the (perhaps two-time) Oscar winning actor combines the lethargic physicality to the freshly heartfelt monologues that makes the story work... So while Lincoln fares so capably on his own, his family serves as a distraction. Enter wife Mary Todd and their two sons: the youngest, Tad, stares wide-eyed at slaves in photographs like a modern kid leafs through baseball cards; while guilt-ridden law student Todd (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), witnessing the tragedy of war, yearns to join the military.

Sally Field’s moody Mary Todd Lincoln is a woman torn between mental instability and blunt honesty... she’s Abe's personal cross to bear yet he wears it with pride. During certain arguments you’d expect him to shout, “To the moon, Mary,” before giving her a forgiving peck on the cheek. Thus each family member lends menial significance – but in a story based on “The Political Genius” of Lincoln as opposed to his personal life, perhaps this was intentional. And on that political side, standing out past the others (even David Strathairn’s patient sidekick William Seward), Tommy Lee Jones plays up the scruffy hero in Thaddeus Stevens. The veteran actor knows how to successfully turn a craggy grouch into an endearing angel. His scenes often feel like an introduction to his own spinoff sequel... through his timeworn eyes the dream of freedom seems the most important. Although director Steven Spielberg does a fine job moving along a film set within conference rooms and that big important Courthouse, he’s a bit too manipulative in the process: you’ll know exactly who to root for, who to throw tomatoes at, and who to cheer with once the historic outcome is revealed. Meanwhile, the liberal filmmaker, in lionizing a famous Republican, plays a delicate balancing act: the stuffy conservatives are as much a bulwark/hindrance as the stubborn democrats (while a barrage of “g-damns” flow like pellets at a shooting gallery). All in all, Lincoln himself seems more an Independent, painfully triangulating through an uphill climb: How he and his colleagues sway votes by creative manipulation is entertainingly fun.

So with all the elaborate sets, beautiful costumes, rich cinematography, and talented character actors (including Hal Holbrook, James Spader, and Bruce McGill, who hilariously complains how Lincoln wins every argument), Daniel Day Lewis triumphs with his stories alone. For a colorful performer who can be too stagey in other projects, he portrays Lincoln so genuinely subtle and meaningfully soft-spoken, the audience has no choice but to hang onto every... single... word.
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