Even though calling the film ‘The Thirteenth Amendment’ may be more apt – there is no denying this is another stroke of genius from Steven Spielberg.
Laden with great acting performances, particularly Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role as President Abraham Lincoln – who must be a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar – this is at times a truly engrossing drama.
But for those expecting a more biographical take on the sixteenth President of the United States could be slightly disappointed, as this only really centres around Abe’s fight to get a constitutional law change to abolish slavery in 1865 – in the dying embers of the American Civil War.
And while this leads to intriguing political fare covering the month surrounding the controversial amendment, those expecting further history outside of this period will feel short-changed.
A general grasp of American history and some of Abraham Lincoln’s back story is also recommended to really enjoy the movie, or some aspects – like Abe’s relationship with depressed wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), who is struggling after the recent death of son Willie (the second out of four sons they lost to illness, Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the eldest Lincoln offspring in the film) – may be lost on the uninitiated.
But fortunately Day Lewis’ breathtakingly realistic, and sometimes exceptionally witty, take on a fiercely-determined President is a joy to behold – and he alone makes the film a must-see, with a record-breaking third Best Actor gong seemingly a formality.
Backed up by solid ever-reliable support from Tommy Lee Jones as anti-slavery Republican Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, James Spader as attorney William Bilbo, and the slightly under-used Field, Lincoln provides an acting master-class.
It may not ‘flesh out’ Abe and his crazy-tagged wife Mary Todd’s marriage problems, or provide expected back-story to the Civil War (the only battle scene is right at the start) and the President’s life on a wider scale – but this is still one hell of a film in its own right.
And even though Lincoln does supply a sometimes dizzying array of political jargon and set-pieces, it is all comprehensively pieced together by Spielberg – who rarely fails to deliver.
It may be one of the most open field’s for the Best Picture in years – but Lincoln throws his legendary ‘chimney pot’ hat defiantly into the Oscar ring.