Review: Lincoln

Biopics need a strong central performance, you have to feel for the lead character and believe them. Steven Spielberg achieves this perfectly in Lincoln.

Max Parker

When Day-Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln speaks, everyone around him listens. His softly spoken manner is instantly endearing, his way with words utterly charming. From soldiers on the battlefield, fighting the closing stages of the civil war, to congressman, Lincoln’s speeches engross and they have to be the highlight of this wordy, yet tense and intelligent drama.

Civil War rages, but in the background

Set during a number of months in 1865, Lincoln recounts the Presidents hard fought efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and abolish slavery, in turn ending the brutal Civil War that rages throughout the country.

Starting out on the battlefield, the film quickly moves to countless courtrooms and White House offices, with many bearded men and stays there for the majority, only setting foot outside on a few occasions. With such well-designed outdoor sets, it seems a shame that they are not shown off more, but that is not saying the interiors are not up to the same standard. Clothing is also impressive, recreating 19th century America beautifully. 

Deep and dialogue heavy

As with a film of this deep and serious nature, Lincoln is conducted mainly through dialogue. Do not come into this expecting Django Unchained style action or any hint of the Civil War, as this stays firmly in the background. So, does the dialogue impress? Well sort of. There is no doubt the script is good and whenever Lincoln is on screen, his magnetism draws you in to listen to what he has to say. Yet when some of the supporting cast takes center stage things can start to feel a bit long-winded and the film often lacks punch. 

That is not to say the cast is disappointing, Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, No Country for Old Men) puts in his strongest performance for years as a Radical Republican who is intent of abolishing slavery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds further stripes to his growing CV playing Lincoln’s son Robert, and Sally Field (Forrest Gump) takes an emotional and downbeat turn as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The scenes featuring the family are a fairly infrequent side story that makes for a nice diversion from the heavy politics.

Oscar Best Picture favourite

Tension is built up throughout and when the vote to pass the amendment arrives, the editing creates a surprisingly nail-biting moment, even if the outcome is no surprise. The closing stages turn from tense, to emotional, but not in the way you would expect.

Lincoln will probably take the Best Picture gong at the Oscars, but without Day-Lewis it would have nowhere near the same impact. It is long and dialogue heavy, but still tells an important story about American history that should be heard by all. 

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