Amimadversion: Lincoln’s agenda
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a calm and resilient political thriller, is definitely one of the sharpest written and directed features of the year about backdoor politics, ethical consciousness and weighty consequences that shape long-term constitutional resolves.
When Lincoln opens, we find Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln sitting near a Union battlefront. It is the first dialogue scene of the film — and the first of its many shrewd conversations — as two African-American soldiers question their President’s legitimacy on racial equality. As the scene moves forward, we are introduced to his influence: two white soldiers, who are in awe of their President since he delivered the Gettysburg Address. When Lincoln asks, if they remember his speech, they say no — only to re-deliver the speech from memory.
Day-Lewis as Lincoln is a human extension beyond the caricature etched in our mind-frame. He’s a tall, angular silhouette with craggy features, with an idiosyncratic drawl and a formidable astuteness of the American people’s mindset. It is also his familiarity of the American mentality that scares him more than his wife Mary’s overpowering bullying (played here by Sally Field). The role is of epic complexity that Day-Lewis wears with as much ease as if he’s worn it his whole life.
There are other brave performances here as well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fine as Robert, Lincoln’s older son, who is furious at dad for keeping him away from serving in the war. David Strathairn as William Seward is as formidable as he’s ever been; he plays Lincoln’s Secretary of State, who hires three shady hucksters (Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes and James Spader) to unofficially entice lame-duck democrats’ votes before the 13th amendment makes an official stand at the Senate.
And last, in the long list of important mentionables is Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens, the radical republican and chief of the Abolitionist movement, who argues for racial equality (a contrasting mindset to slave freedom that creates a faction within the party itself).
Jones, with his sharp-tongued retorts, is the film’s second most fierce performer — and perhaps a shoe-in at this year’s Oscar race.
Released by DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox, Lincoln is rated PG-13.