While War Horse is a very British tale, Spielberg’s return to the Best Picture category a year later saw him take on an incredibly American story. Spielberg told the story of Abraham Lincoln’s attempts to have the thirteenth amendment passed by the US House of Representatives.
The very straight-forwardly titled Lincoln also looked at the president’s relationship with his wife and children during the final four months of his life. At the heart of Lincoln is the story of a man who fought hard to free the slaves despite opposition from elsewhere. The film doesn’t paint Lincoln as a saint but instead as somebody who occasionally made dubious decisions for the greater good. Judging from how Spielberg directs the film I got the impression that this is a story that Americans know already and therefore he doesn’t really allow international audiences any time to truly get to know the characters. In fact, for the majority of the film it was hard to tell one politician in a wig from another unless they were played by an actor I was familiar with. Although the story isn’t one that particularly lends itself to a cinematic setting, I didn’t think that the usual engaging Spielberg put enough time into the visuals of Lincoln. In fact the only memorable moments came courtesy of the Civil War scenes at the start of the film and Lincoln’s death at the end. The most interesting parts of Lincoln didn’t revolve around the political aspects of the story but rather his relationship with his family. I was particularly intrigued to learn that Mary Lincoln had mental issues and that Abraham only stayed with her after she became pregnant. I personally would’ve liked to have had more scenes between the Lincolns and less involving the political scheming of the president’s associates.
For authentically capturing the period of the time, Lincoln’s production design team were awarded with an Oscar for their hard work. However, it was the film’s other Oscar recipient who deserves the most praise and who made history with his award win. That recipient is Daniel Day-Lewis who won his third Best Actor Oscar to date for giving another fantastic performance as Lincoln. Having watched him develop over the course of this blog, I think that Lincoln represents Day-Lewis’ third era as a performer. Although his performance incorporates some of the more brusque elements of the characters he played in Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, he lends a much more sympathetic edge to his turn as the former President. Day-Lewis is utterly mesmerising as Lincoln and makes you know exactly what the President is feeling even when he isn’t saying anything at all. To date, Day-Lewis is the only man to win three awards in the Lead Actor category and I would say that this record is utterly well-deserved. For playing Mary Lincoln, Sally Field earned an Oscar nomination and I felt her performance here was certainly better than her Oscar-winning turn in Places in the Heart. The final member of the cast to earn a nod was Tommy Lee Jones, who as campaigning Thaddeus Stevens, added some much needed grit to proceedings. I also felt James Spader gave a suitably scenery-chewing turn as the somewhat devious William N Bilbo. Though I didn’t find it as captivating as others did, Lincoln is still a solid piece of film-making by a man who knows exactly how to put an excellent movie together. Despite not being visually engaging, I think Lincoln’s strengths are in the performances especially those given by Day-Lewis and Field. I do think that its Day-Lewis’ turn as Lincoln which will give the film its lasting legacy and I feel that it’ll definitely be the time of movie that will be played in history lessons for years to come.