history America Civil War
One does not simply walk in the shoes of Lincoln. He is not a role like Luke Skywalker, who was an original creation that one could cast anyone before because we had no idea what a Luke Skywalker was. No, this is the man whose face we literally see every day on the faces of five doller bills and pennies. Many actors have come and gone playing him, but the part of Lincoln has, as far as I can recall, always been a supporting character in civil war movies, someone whose presence was limited because of the impossibility of sustaining the illusion that he was real.
That is why Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor's actor. That's an amazing stovepipe hat to fill, and goodness, in spite of the task previously pinned by me to be impossible, he does it. Yes, I am vaguely aware of how he doesn't look exactly like Lincoln, since after all the real man's face is on money, but he was Lincoln. This is not something where an actor just shows up to an audition and does his thing and allows his presence to do the work for him. No, this took genuine work. Many actors have come to the role, such as Gregory Peck in The Blue and the Grey, and have added presence to the role. They have given Lincoln a sense of drama, an air of nobility. Daniel Day-Lewis manages to go beyond that, however, beyond the marble carving other actors and directors have turned him into and delivers a soulful performance, and while watching this movie there was no doubt in my mind that this was Lincoln. This isn't just a good performance; this is one of the great performances for the ages.
When you combing the divine acting skills of Daniel Day-Lewis and the masterful storytelling finesse of Stephen Spielberg, this is a soulful, powerful Lincoln that is destined to become a legend of cinematic history, and is all but guaranteed the Oscar for Best Actor unless academy voters decide to be prejudiced against an actor who has already won the award. However, as otherwise stated, this is an actor's actor. The other possible contender for the prize is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, but that's a stage role where people are used to the usual carousel of faces with different interpretations of the character. Jean Valjean is my favorite fictional character, but Abraham Lincoln was a real person whose personality has becomed carved into the stone tablets of American history, and it's far harder to deliver a convincing, definitive performance that brings him back to life. That is by far one of the greatest challenges an actor can be dealt, one that not even most professional actors can pull off, and as such it only makes sense in my mind that Daniel Day-Lewis was the best actor this year by every sense of the term.
Sally Field, meanwhile, was also equally as convincing as Mary Todd Lincoln. I was vaguely aware that there was an actress behind the role, but that was only when my mind tried to disect the movie and something about her eyes seemed familiar, but Sally Field was perfect for the role and I was only aware it was her after I stayed behind to see her name in the credits. She was amazing, and I can't recall any other movie where Mrs. Lincoln played such a prominent role.
The guy who played Secretary of State Seward, meanwhile, was also perfect for this prominent role and was 100% convincing. I might add that every single one of these actors mentioned thus far were also visually perfect for their roles, and I don't know how Spielberg managed to come across such convenient combinations.
Slightly less convincing was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who no metter what brings that Tommy Lee presence to his roles. However, while his performance isn't ultra-convincing, he brings charm and charisma to the role, and the moment he first enters on screen there's no doubt just who this person is and where he fits in with everything. Along with Lincoln, he's the other rominent character who must be challenged in order to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. One may or may not like his performance, and I don't think it depends on whether or not you're a Tommy Lee fan, but it's something more complicated than that.
The least convincing actor is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln's oldest son. I guess he loks the role, but thanks to a plethora of big movies starring him that came out this year, he really breaks the illusion created by this movie, which was otherwise a perfect window into the past. Sorry, Joseph. Fortunately, he's not too prominent in this film.
Based off of acting performances alone, and the amazing souls brought to the roles, I encourage people to see this in theatres before it's too late. If you're still reading this, stop, make a grab for your wallet, and go see this movie. Meanwhile, I always, always encourage Americans to view movies about significant events in American history, so even if this wasn't an absolute recommendation for the big screen due to acting, I would still tell people to watch is sooner or later due to the content.
With regards to the plot, it's important to establish that this is not a war film. I suspected that it would be, but I was wrong, and there is only one scene with any fighting in it whatsoever. That one clip in the trailer where you see bombardment by canon fire for one second is actually about two seconds of footage thrown into the film. So in other words, don't expect a war movie, but a courtroom drama of sorts, as this film could very well have been given the alternative title of The Thirteenth Amendment, which it completely focuses on. The politics and lobbying that all went behind nabbing all of the necessary votes made for a very interesting drama. They don't simplify it, either, as this is an adapted screenplay of Team of Rivals, which is a thoroughly researched book on the complications of the politics within the Lincoln administration. That Spielberg didn't hold back is noble, and it was a very pleasant surprise that almost every vote for the Thirteenth Amendment was filmed, which was incredibly dramatic and certainly the climax of the film. Then it ended with Lincoln getting shot and the familiar scene of his time of death being recorded with the words "Now he belongs to the age" said over his body. It's where it should have ended, but the big moment that this film that stands out is definitely the vote and the drama that built up to it.
This is my favorite movie thus far this year, to put things into perspective. That means I liked this more than any of the superhero movies, Brave, Prometheus, and The Hobbit. This is, of course, isn't to say that it's going to be anybody's favorite, but it says something of my own interests. I have gone through the frustration of not having it shown in my area for over a month, but it finally came to my local theatre and a good friend of mine came back from the Coast Guard Academy on vacation and told me about it when we got back together, heavily recommending it to me because he knew it was exactly my kind of film.