Directed by Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks, 2012)
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous figures in American history and one of its most universally beloved presidents. Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated film Lincoln brings the icon to life, managing to paint a positive portrait with a relatively tolerable amount of romanticism.
Rather than nostalgically recapping Lincoln’s entire life, the film succeeds by focusing only on Lincoln’s last four months in office, specifically on his drive to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln is as much about the inner workings of Congress in the mid-1800s as it is about the hallowed president. Viewers who think that today’s Washington is a political circus will enjoy the many scenes of historical representatives beating fists on desks and hurling 19th-century insults at each other, the best coming from Tommy Lee Jones’ brilliant Thaddeus Stevens, who calls an opponent a “fatuous nincompoop.”
Daniel Day-Lewis turns in an Oscar-worthy performance that captures the many sides of Lincoln: shrewd politician, calculating lawyer, frustrated husband, concerned father, corny storyteller, and powerful commander-in-chief. Even in the culminating scene, the film continually cuts away from the action to show Lincoln the father calmly reading to his young son while the fate of his precious bill is determined.
In each role Lincoln seems to baffle everyone around him. He is often depicted on screen alone, left to his own thoughts. Day-Lewis, tall in real life and portraying a famously tall man, towers over the other actors. These staging elements give the sense that Lincoln was utterly alone—both emotionally, and without political equal.
The film will no doubt add to Lincoln’s already massive popularity, but it leaves viewers plenty to consider about this definitively mortal man who was—and still seems—larger than life.
This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 2, page 50).