4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Despite its all-encompassing title, director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is more about politics than the 16th president of the United States. To be sure, Abraham Lincoln, as depicted by Daniel Day-Lewis, is the central figure in the movie. But the focus is purely on his push to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Missing are scenes of Lincoln’s childhood and his moves as a fledgling politician. Instead, viewers meet the president at the height of his political prowess, and they watch as he manipulates American government in a way few politicians – before or after – have been able to accomplish.
The tight focus is one of the joys of the movie and it, no doubt, helped the film garner 12 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. In the end, “Lincoln” won only two of those awards, but that doesn’t diminish the historically significant and surprisingly topical on-screen product.
Spielberg clearly wants viewers to see parallels between Lincoln’s maneuvering and the moves taking place on Capitol Hill today. But one needn’t be a political junkie to enjoy the film. What will help is a healthy interest in history and a long attention span. The latter is important because “Lincoln” runs 150 minutes, and it’s talky by necessity. Much of the action involves politicians quietly scheming in back rooms and meeting halls. As excruciating as that may sound, Spielberg finds a way to make it thrilling… as long as one pays attention. Drift off, and it’s possible to get hopelessly lost in the complications of the plot.
Day-Lewis won his third best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln, and he is deserving of the award. Despite his English roots, the actor disappears so thoroughly into the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else – American or British – playing it. As depicted by Day-Lewis, Lincoln is a charismatic man who is quick with a story and a smile, but he’s also a fearless champion of his beliefs.
The supporting cast is also exceptional. Sally Field landed a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones earned a best supporting actor nod for his wonderful reading of politician Thaddeus Stevens. Other noteworthy cast members include David Strathairn as William Seward, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens, John Hawkes as Robert Latham and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo.
Not surprisingly, Spielberg puts all that talent to use, producing a movie that captures an important moment in American history while demonstrating how few things have changed since Lincoln’s death nearly 150 years ago.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette.