Lincoln

16 Jun

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From legendary director Steven Spielberg comes Lincoln, the biographical tale of American president Abraham Lincoln as he fights against his own cabinet for the abolition of slavery, set against the backdrop of a raging civil war.

In reviewing films on this blog, I try to look at several factors that come together to make the complete movie. The contributing elements are normally fairly obvious; first of all there’s the story. Then I consider the quality of the casting (how good the performances are, the chemistry between key actors etc). The strength of the dialogue must always be taken into account, and I’ll sometimes give a nod to the score/soundtrack as well., should I think it deserves one.

However, sometimes a film comes along where it’s quality, and consequently my enjoyment of it, is defined predominantly by just one of these elements. I found Lincoln to be one such film. I’ll say first of all that I believe this film delivers in all areas, but there is one that is one standout; the show stopping performance of the leading man, Daniel Day-Lewis.

I first saw Lincoln at the cinema in January, following its theatrical release. Since then, I’ve been counting down the days to being able to watch it again and was finally able to do so, following the UK blu-ray release this week. I had worried slightly whether it would hold up as well on a second viewing, but those fears were quickly allayed.

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Shamefully, this movie stands as the first Day-Lewis performance I saw. I was so transfixed that I wasted no time in seeing Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, and I am a complete convert now – the man is phenomenal. Famed for the extreme levels he takes his method acting too, it is clear from the quality on display on this picture that he is a man completely devoted to his art. This is not merely Daniel Day-Lewis portraying Lincoln, this is Daniel Day-Lewis being Lincoln. The transformation in every aspect of Day-Lewis’ is truly extraordinary, from physical appearance to speech.

It is his appearance that is instantly striking. He’s done more than just grow a beard for the role (through what a beard it is!); his gait and near-shuffled walk, with arms fixed by his side, had me mesmerised from the off. Day-Lewis has also found a voice for Lincoln, for which he faced some criticism but that I believe to be fantastic. Lots of research went in to getting the voice right, as no recordings exist for evidence. The general consensus seemed to be that his voice was high, nasal and ‘miraculously floated over crowds’. Well, we’ll never know exactly how accurate it is, but that is certainly the voice that Day-Lewis has found. It is a voice that somehow fills the man with both authority and vulnerability.

Lincoln was also known for his lengthy stories and anecdotes, and plenty of those have been penned for this film by writer Tony Kushner. Spielberg does a great job with these, allowing Lincoln to take the floor, but again it is Day-Lewis who dominates every second of screen time. These monologues are often amusing, and Day-Lewis delivers them with warmth and sincerity. The people that Lincoln is talking to are always in the palm of his hand, and his effect is the same on the film’s audience.

Similarly, in the scenes where Day-Lewis has to ramp up the intensity, he does it with ease and brilliance. The script writing that allows him to get deep into Lincoln’s mindset is fantastic, his dialogue is never less than brilliant, but it his delivery that makes it. His passion for his cause is thoroughly believable, with Day-Lewis more doing justice to this famously great orator.

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As much as I could marvel over this astounding performance for a while longer, I suppose I should move on to the other elements of the film. Well, based as it is around incredibly important historical events, the story is great. Lincoln’s battle for the abolition of slavery is made fascinating here, displayed in minute detail as he fights to push the amendment through before the civil war comes to an end. The politics on display are enthralling and handled magnificently, heightening my interest in a period of history that I am not as well versed in as perhaps I could/should be.

The direction from Spielberg is predictably superb. His decisions in allowing Lincoln’s monologues to dominate the movie pay off big time. Bearing in mind the dialogue is often extremely dry, it would have been easy to cut or shorten some of these scenes and ‘dumb-down’ a little bit. Fortunately, Spielberg displays a knack for keeping it all entertaining and interesting. Frankly, this is just brilliant film making.

The cinematography on display is magnificent. Highlights for me are shots of Lincoln silhouetted against windows that look beautiful, and the lighting is often used to great effect to enhance the man’s distinctive features, helping to create the impression of power he holds over his audience.

It’s not just Day-Lewis where the casting of the film is perfect. Tommy Lee Jones earned himself an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, an influential member of the House of Representatives, a fierce opponent of slavery and a supporter of equal rights for everybody regardless of race. His dialogue is full of sharp wit and Jones is afforded the funniest moment of the film with some well-judged light relief. His performance is a powerful one and he fills an important character with heart and purpose.

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As Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, Sally Field also delivers a fine performance. Her character helps us see Lincoln the man, not just the famed president. We see arguments between the two where he doesn’t always come across as being the one in the right, which I found to be an interesting way to go and Field is a great foil for Day-Lewis, always holding in her own on screen despite the intensity of the man she is acting with. That really is no small feat.

As I hope has come across, Lincoln is a film I have fallen in love with. It has proven to be a gateway for me into the films of a truly great actor. As I imagine was the case with everybody that saw this, I walked out of the cinema knowing that I had just watched a soon-to-be Oscar winning performance. I could never effectively convey the brilliance of Day-Lewis as Lincoln and the effect it had on me. It is an acting performance that I hold in the highest possible regard and I can only hope hat this review has gone someway to expressing the love I have for it.

With the wonderful work of a highly skilled director and a brilliantly written script, Lincoln is a movie where the excitement is delivered by intelligent discourse and a quality of performance across the entire cast that deserves to be marveled at, and held up as a lesson in the craft of acting. It achieves the difficult balance of being fairly long but never boring, not affording itself a single lull in quality. Having considered everything, I find that there is no area in which I can bring myself to mark this film down, and so I am happily handing out full marks.

10/10

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3 Responses to “Lincoln”

  1. At The Back June 24, 2013 at 08:22 #

    Get a room…

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  1. My Left Foot | I Liked That Film - July 21, 2013

    […] anybody who has read my Lincoln review will know, I am a big fan of Daniel Day-Lewis. That said, I did have to make a shameful […]

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