I will do something that happens all to often on this blog, in my open choice to recant a previous belief that in regards to Oscar nomination for best male in a lead performance that nobody had anything on the excellent Joaquin Phoenix whose presence in The Master leaked through its crackled surface and glossy veneer to cut at the very question of a likable human being. I was sure that even with my undeniable zeal for Daniel Day-Lewis that his performance would be lesser than what Phoenix provides. While I still very much adore Phoenix and think his performance may well be the best of his career, when I popped Lincoln into view, I was aware from the moment that Lewis and his method acted version of Lincoln filled the screen that his acting would without question be far superior to his absolutely excellent counterparts. It is something far different than There Will Be Blood, but, nonetheless, manages to show a very honed set of skills that jump out to viewers, each lengthy monologue welcomed with just the right amount of score by the infallible John Williams is more than enough to cause a viewer to become heavily invested in the film, so much so, that when it finally does end and the credits emerge the emotive drain is hard to ignore. I mean to consider that alongside Day-Lewis' Lincoln are a slew of other respectable actors including, amongst others Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tim Blake Nelson, and that is only naming a few. I am not one to hold Spielberg in contempt for his particular style of filmmaking, especially in regards to its heavy handed nature, instead, I am fully aware of the stylistic choices he makes as a director and allow for them to permeate my experience, something I have attempted to do with more recent Michael Bay films with no success. Even the detractors of Spielberg cannot deny the absolute magnitude and cinematic zeal of Lincoln, an absolutely inspiring narrative that is only made the more precise by a decidedly on-the-nose Tony Kushner script, Lincoln is what one should aspire to when making a biopic, in all its absolute intensity and surprising modesty.
Lincoln, despite being a film about one of America's most well-regarded presidents, nonetheless, considers a very specific portion of his presidency, the months leading up to the signing into affect of the Thirteenth Amendment, ultimately, and legally abolishing slavery in the Union, soon again to be The United States in a completist sense. As history has shown, this was an incredibly complex process and one that Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) had to face while also handling the woes of his personal life, firstly, dealing with his mentally-troubled wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) and his gung-ho son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who felt it necessary to join the war effort to assure his self-worth, despite running the very real risk of losing his life. Being the brilliant man that Lincoln was he is fully capable of navigating the various rungs of his administration, gathering respect from most everyone he talked with given his penchant for long-winded stories and breadth of factual knowledge, despite being almost entirely self-educated. The problem emerges, not when opposition emerges, because Lincoln and his conclave of politicians are sure that they can obtain swing votes, it is the though that pushing the amendment through will only occur if a suggestion of its necessity to a peace agreement can be created, something that is problematized when the officers of the Confederate Army find themselves desiring piece talks. Lincoln facing the decision to prolong slavery with the posibility of instant peace or ignoring these request with an assurance that the enslavement of man will end in The United States leads him to a multi-tiered moral quandary, which is only solved while rambling about geometry with a scribe one night. Along with the help of Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and the surprising swing votes of a handful of democrats the amendment is able to pass and slavery is subsequently abolished, not long after a crippling Confederate army surrenders and Lincoln allows them to flee accordingly. While this is not a film about his entire life, it does, nonetheless, include his assassination, although it happens out of the scene, instead focusing on the trauma faced by his youngest child. The film closes with an aging Lincoln offering a speech on prosperity and the human will, before somberly fading to black thus ending the epic narrative of a few months in America's bloodiest war.
Lincoln is an example of the classical Hollywood style properly realized. I know many film lovers who suggest that Clint Eastwood is the last classicist making films and while I would tend to agree with that in the fullest, I would also argue that Spielberg possesses a certain degree of classicism, the only difference is that he came to his through evolution as a filmmaker, whereas Eastwood began as an actor in the world of Western classics and took this style into his movies. One only need to break down any shot in Lincoln and realize that the stoic staged presence of each actor, paired with a set that defines the idea of chiaroscuro, as wall as the previously mentioned John Williams scores, make for everything one must have experienced when attending a film during the alleged "classic" era of Hollywood. Even the sort of bombastic, hyper intensity one comes to expect from Day-Lewis is reigned in within this film, although, it is not ironic in the slightest, considering that the probable expectation would be this intensity seen in There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York for such a major and visioned figure in American history. Instead, Day-Lewis goes the way of simplicity with his version of Lincoln, finding himself far more concerned with portraying the man in his most humane, humble, a bit awkward socially and completely occupied with the notion of justice and a greater truth. Similarly, much in the way of classical style the film is inundated with notable actors and faces, however, when this often happens in newer films characters constantly attempt to one-up one another, often making a mess in the process. Lincoln is much more in line with the classic stylings and respect for large casts of respected actors, in the case of this film it is clear that everyone involved works in the space of Day-Lewis while also realizing that it is his space and they have just been fortunate enough to briefly share it for awhile. A combination of hyper-intellectual dialogue on the part of Kushner, masterful scoring and a roster of classic style actors makes the case for Spielberg existing in the realm of classicism more and more with each film he makes.
Key Scene: As much as I do not want to side with the Academy the monologue they picked for Day-Lewis when showing his performance in Lincoln is certainly the highlight of the film and is one of many brilliant moments.
This is obviously worth watching and I would even say worth owning. It is a reminder of the power Spielberg has when committed to directing something visionary.