Lincoln (2012) – Film Review
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
by Dan Berlinka
The title suggests biopic, but by wisely focusing on one specific historical event, what Lincoln really delivers is a political thriller. After a slowish start, it’s actually quite a gripping one. It manages to turn legislative procedure into nail-biting suspense.
However, the overly generous running time means that this fascinating 19th Century episode of The West Wing is punctuated by domestic scenes. These blunt some of the sharpness with a pall of reverential mawkishness.
There is, of course, much to admire. Day Lewis’ performance is truly remarkable. His supporting cast is first rate. Particularly a splendid louche turn from James Spader. Spielberg directs sombrely and with restraint. He manages to keep a complex narrative intelligible without gross over simplification. But ultimately, this is very much an American story for an American audience.
“Manages to keep a complex narrative intelligible”
Some speeches hint at US ideals of freedom spreading beyond their borders, but British viewers may baulk at this, given that slavery had already been abolished here much earlier in the century. And perhaps more than anything, it feels that the picture’s underlying purpose is as a combatant in America’s ongoing culture war, reminding red state Republicans that theirs was once the party of progressive liberality.
So, while it’s certainly worth seeing for those with an interest in US history (or for admirers of Spielberg and/or Day Lewis), the casual moviegoer may find it commendable, but not essential.