When a new Spielberg film hits, the level of anticipation is usually sky high. The man can craft a story and knows how to manipulate, in the best sense, the emotions of the viewer. While I haven't been a huge fan of his latest works, Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a welcome return to form.
Reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan," "Lincoln" opens on a Civil War battle, which might not be as bloody as wars found in previous Spielberg films, but it's all the more brutal due to the hand-to-hand combat - knives tearing into flesh, fists pummeling faces, boots pressing heads into the mud. It was a dirty war and Spielberg throws that fact in the viewer's face immediately.
There's no doubting the brilliance that is Daniel Day-Lewis. Whether he's playing a man with cerebral palsy, Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York" or Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood," he never phones in anything he does and "Lincoln" is no different. His portrayal shows a humorous, gentrified, yet still relatable Lincoln. One who is able to be approached by anyone who wishes to talk to him and one who detests slavery. And while that might not be entirely true to history, any movie about a president is bound to stretch the truth to make the man fit the legend.
Sally Field apparently had to beg Spielberg to give her the role of Mary Todd, Lincoln's wife. After seeing her performance, I realize not only that no one else could have matched the fire and passion that Field brought to the role, but also how much I've missed seeing Field on the silver screen on a regular basis. I could go on and on about the performances. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes and James Spader are all welcome additions to the cast and I would be surprised if Day-Lewis, Field and Jones don't walk away with Oscar nominations for their work.
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of "Lincoln" is watching the amendment to abolish slavery try to get through the House of Representatives. If we think politics is a dirty game today, it was just as dirty back then, if not more so. According to the film, people were bribed with jobs in order to get the amendment passed. It's this ambiguous morality that makes the film interesting to me. If the cause was something I was not in favor of I would be outraged by the bribes, but because I'm for it, I find it to be amusing and I root for them.
It's also interesting that "Lincoln" shows representatives using the word of God as a case to continue slavery. While I think the abolishment of slavery was a bigger issue and had a far greater impact, there's a common thread that links it to today's issue with gay marriage and gay rights. It reminds the viewer that despite slavery ending 150 years ago, which is really not that long of a time anyhow, there will always be people who are persecuted for one reason or another.
Spielberg has crafted a master film. It may be slightly slow in some parts but the performances and the history (when it's accurate), is enough to mark "Lincoln" as a must-see Spielberg film.
Scott Viau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.