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Lincoln (2012)

With the simple title of Lincoln, one might expect the new film from Steven Spielberg to be an all-encompassing biopic of the life of our famous stovepot-hat-wearing former President.  However, quite cunningly, Mr. Spielberg and screenwriter (and acclaimed playwright) Tony Kushner (basing their work in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) chose instead to focus on a very short period — about two months — at the end of Lincoln’s life, in which he endeavored to bring the Civil War to a close and to pass the 13th Ammendment, abolishing slavery in the United States of America.

It’s an ingenious choice, and as a result Lincoln stays far away from many of the familiar beats of the biopic. The film is one-part character study, allowing us to spend time getting to know this most iconic of men, and one-part peek behind the curtain to see how the sausage of politics gets made — or, at least, how it did back in 1865.

The film is thrilling, and the way Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Kushner made a two-and-a-half hour story about how an amendment gets passed into such an edge-of-your seat piece of entertainment is absolutely astonishing.  The script is terrific.  The film has a huge ensemble (I’ll get back to this in a minute), but it’s never overwhelming, never confusing.  We’re introduced to a breadth of characters each of whom has a distinct personality and point of view and each of whom helps, in a small way, to illuminate the story being told.  Through these characters we are brought into the world of the bitterly divided America of 1865, still caught in the final throes of Civil War, and we are given keen insight into the political process of the day.  We see all the different points of view on the amendment, we learn why these different individuals hold these different points of view, and we see in intricate detail the work done by Mr. Lincoln and his team (several of whom are exceedingly grudging temporary allies) to, step by tiny step, move the pieces into place in their attempt to pass this momentous piece of legislation.  This The West Wing: 1865, and I don’t mean that to belittle the film in any way but rather as a huge compliment.  Lincoln is exciting and humorous and tragic, filled with colorful figures and eager to show the audience the nuts and bolts of our political process, warts and all.

All of this, of course, is anchored and elevated (if I may mix my metaphors) by the astonishing performance of Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.  I cannot believe this is the … [continued]