The biggest thing you’ll hear about Steven Spielberg’s biopic about our nation’s sixteenth President is how spot-on Daniel Day-Lewis looks as Abraham Lincoln. Pictures surfaced on the Internet months ago, and people were immediately hooked by them. Daniel Day-Lewis is such a great actor, that him being in the movie should be the only selling point needed. In fact, just look at the poster. It’s a black and white picture of him, and that’s it. The more I look at this poster the more I realize how it perfectly reflects the movie as a whole. It’s truly a pure acting piece. This is a film about a brief, but important moment in Lincoln’s life, that doesn’t have much flavor to spice it up, but it’s an interesting history lesson none the less.
The powerhouse performances are the driving force behind this film. Day Lewis embodies Lincoln perfectly and his actions and expressions alone are enough to convince you of this. He is not the stand out for me personally, though. The one who really steals the show is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. He brings much needed energy to the screen and seeing where his character goes provides great entertainment. Other stand out performances that I must mention are Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lincoln’s eldest son, and David Strathairn as his Secretary of State. Both these actors aren’t given the amount of screen time I was hoping for, but they make the best of what they do have. The rest of the cast is in fine form, just not memorable. They are more of an afterthought. You look at someone like John Hawkes or Jackie Earle Haley and you think, “Okay, they are really good.” but when thinking back on the movie, they aren’t the ones that come to mind at all.
What really got to me was the pacing and inconsistency the story faced. Overall, this is about Lincoln and his men trying to get the amendment passed to abolish slavery. It makes for an interesting premise and is one that should be seen by everyone. But there were many other side stories and other things going on around and to the characters that I would have loved to see more of. The relationship Lincoln had with his sons and his wife were some of my favorite scenes and I really loved watching them interact, but their screen time was, unfortunately, limited. The way the film was structured, I would be sitting there loving what was presented one minute, really getting sucked in, and then other times I would feel bored and uninvolved with that was happening on screen. I think instead of a feature film, this may have worked better as a miniseries, telling Lincoln’s full story and in such a hyped up way. It worked out well for John Adams back in 2008. I’m sure this would have been even superior to that.
When working on a period drama, the “look” is key. Everything in this film, from the lighting to the costumes, was done to perfection. Even the way it was filmed made you feel like you were watching something older, something we don’t see too often these days. Shots are stable, no real camera tricks, just old fashion stuff. But, the most impressive thing about its look is Abe Lincoln. Everything from his beard to his coat is exactly how I always pictured him in my mind and what I’ve seen in history textbooks.
If it sounds like I didn’t like the film, I just want to get it out there. I did like it. I thought it was a good film, just not the one I was really hoping for or expected from the great Steven Spielberg. I felt with a running time of two and a half hours, I would have had my fill of knowledge of Mr. Lincoln and the time period itself, but I feel like the story was holding back and we only got to see them scratch the surface of what they could have done. Still, with entertaining scenes sprinkled throughout, powerhouse acting and a look and feel that makes you feel as if you are actually there, this is a movie that should not be ignored.
*Fun Fact* Liam Neeson was originally set to play Abraham Lincoln before Day Lewis stepped in for him.