Before you sits a man, not a monument.
Swift shot: Whether you love Lincoln or consider him a tyrant, Daniel Day-Lewis brings an eerie reality to the man that can’t be equaled, all within the confines of attempting to pass the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. With an impeccable quality bringing up a haunted past, Spielberg and Director of Photography Kaminski paint a history lesson that compels cineamtic respect.
The moment you say the man’s name, Lincoln, a bombardment of mental images are immediately conjured. He was a great man to some, reviled man to others, yet he was very much that . . . a man. A man who was clothed with immense power, as he reminds someone in the film at one point, but also a grieving father, a husband and man gifted with wit and humor with which few could compete. And Daniel Day-Lewis, as you might have expected, embodies these qualities masterfully. In our time, he is probably one of the best actors to ever live. He takes an almost mundane portion of a man’s life and builds a crescendo of conflict whilst managing to endure an even tempo throughout the immense pressure and political intrigues surrounding this moment in a man’s premature twilight. While his machinations are grandiose, there is a real humble quality to Day-Lewis’ Lincoln that borders on the super-natural. Even his odd, high-pitched voice was calculated to a historical perfection.
It may sound strange to think of Lincoln as reviled, but in his time he was very much reviled by an entire half of the nation . . . a nation at conflict with itself. Even as a husband to Mary who was effortlessly portrayed by Sally Field, Lincoln and the nation were at odds with the slaughter of innocents (on both sides). Yet the harsh paternal nature required by great men to make sacrifices out of human beings, led to the bloody gates of Heaven for a cause few could argue has any more noble parallels, was evident in nearly every scene with Day-Lewis as Lincoln.
All these grandiose calculations are present in Lincoln, but handled with a subtle nuance that some may find boring and stilted at times. But make no mistake, these sequences are painstakingly molded to be mundane to give the viewer an earnest understanding of the daily life of Lincoln. Even the lighting was sourced using only light available for the time, to set the contrast with our reality. We are looking from the future, he was living in the present. His chief goal was to pass the 13th Amendment, and like all great politicians, he wasn’t afraid to hedge his bets and compromise when necessary. But the 13th . . . he was willing to do everything short of outright murder to get it passed before the war’s end.
His “ally” in the theater of Congress was the ‘Radical Republican’ Thaddeus Stevens who believed that there should be no compromise with the hated Democrats who forced the persecution of a war he felt was bloody, yet necessary, to secure freedom . . . real freedom, to all men regardless of race. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t just wear the foppish wig of the man, he relished playing a tyranical “good guy.” It’s hard to describe the character of Stevens any other way, he was mean and delighted in making others squirm in his presence, yet he shared a burning desire to see America free for all. His presence on the floor and in the film was as necessary as Lincoln’s.
Perhaps one of the most mollifying scenes showing Lincoln as the most powerful man on the planet, yet utterly powerless, centers around his proud, and foolish, son, Robert (JG-L). JG-L doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and yet he manages to sequester Lincoln as a frightened father. Reminding us of that unspoken facet of fatherhood that many of us will face, when a boy becomes a man, his will is unstoppable. Even the President of the United States of America can’t compete with that, nor the tears of a mother, wracked with regrets and melancholy. Truly, Mary is the most tragic figure in the film when it reaches the conclusion we all know is coming. The war ends, but with it comes a terrible price and the nation suffers.
Lincoln is a film that a few of the ADHD audience members may find too ‘boring’ and not ‘engaging enough’ to warrant seeing in theaters. But while this film requires some discipline to enjoy, you will be the better for having watched it, because it doesn’t make a saint out of a man, it shows a man who did the best he could with what destiny placed at his doorstep. Few could fault a man who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to see that HIS nation did not perish from the Earth and that all men would be free.