Silver Screen Presidentiality At Its Finest
Friday, November 16, 2012
In the wake of the presidential election, "Lincoln" reminds us what we're really voting for -- main characters of potentially awesome non-fiction cinema. The film opens in San Diego Nov. 16.
Congratulations are due to Daniel Day-Lewis on his inevitable Oscar nomination. It's going to happen. So, congrats.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" has reportedly been in the works for over a decade, with the script (largely based on the best-selling book, "Team of Rivals") and Abe's stovepipe hat changing hands several times. Liam Neeson was an initial pick to play the 16th president. He turned it down after growing too old for the role.
With all due respect to Neeson, that was best decision of his career. The hat fell to Day-Lewis.
Day-Lewis, one of the most selective actors in the industry (who appears twice on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time) delivers spectacularly as President Lincoln in the long-awaited film. His voice is genuine and strong, without needing to boom or echo. Day-Lewis fully exhausts his character in his scenes, holding nothing back. His face is always expressive and intriguing, whether pondering intently, or sharing a cheeky story. Day-Lewis, as always, is fully enveloped by his character. My only complaint is his lack of vulnerability, which the script never called for. The president appears physically frail, with strained eyes and a lean figure, but he is always required to maintain a stoic demeanor; he is never completely at a loss -- flawlessly presidential and fatherly. And I could watch him for days.
See the unofficial, goosebump-inducing "unite" trailer here.
The opening dialogue is the only lull of the film. It is worrisome, seeming like a basic history lesson on the 16th president (after a gritty and grey battle sequence). But luckily our focus quickly shifts from Gettysburg Address recitation to Abe's relationship with malleable American laws. This relationship is showcased throughout the film, highlighting his struggle to navigate the nation through its bloodiest years while pushing congress toward slavery abolition -- all in the last months of his life.
The discourse grows heavy as the gravity of nationwide problems weigh on the president's dependable shoulders. The film is full of dialogue-intense scenes which all hinge on the performances of Day-Lewis and his supporting cast. The story could have easily dried up, but the competent cast keeps you locked in and fully engaged.
Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) taps into a perfect "Crazy Molly" persona. She publicly belittles powerful politicians and slugs out heavy scenes with the president, all the while exposed and on the brink of a mental collapse.
James Spader (Democratic operative W.N. Bilbo) is awesome, as expected. He provides wacky charisma and comic relief where Lincoln's humorous anecdotes (which can uplift the most crazed scenes) have no place.
And Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) is a solid bookend to the adept cast. He is the playful-yet-commanding GOP party leader, who sharply cuts down Democratic adversaries en route to finalizing his cherished 13th amendment. He's a perfectly wretched political dynamo.
Overall, the film is quite moving in its content and manner of presentation. It's a uniquely authentic and gripping glimpse into the life of a true national hero, and the most important political initiatives in American history.
"Lincoln" is rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language.